It’s an attribute that’s hard to come by these days. It’s an admirable trait, the ability to admit you’ve made a mistake, that you own up to what you’ve done and that nobody, but you, is responsible. It’s a behavior that sets an example for others to follow, particularly in a team setting. Nobody is perfect. But I screwed up and I’m going to do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again. First person singular. Accountability.
I don’t see much accountability within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization these days. Things have gotten so murky you can’t even make out the finger pointing.
It wasn’t but two years ago that we all experienced the storybook, happy ending. Tom Brady moves to Tampa. Ignites organization with his contagious, championship attitude. Team goes through early rough patch but thanks to Brady’s trickle-down infectiousness, there was no way this team wasn’t going all the way.
And they did, all the way to victory in Super Bowl LV.
That seems like ancient history, but it was only last year. A lot has changed since then. Key personnel moved on. Coaching changes have been made. Oh, and yeah… a divorce of Camelot-like proportions. This team, once a favorite to contend for another Super Bowl is off to a horrific start. The window’s not shut but gravity sure isn’t on its side.
In the past month, the Buccaneers have lost games to teams they had no business losing to. They were double-digit favorites against both Pittsburgh and Carolina, games they not only lost but in which they were thoroughly outplayed. They were slight favorites at home to the Baltimore Ravens, another game they lost, their third in a row and fifth of their last six. A Tom Brady-led team hasn’t lost three straight games in twenty years but that’s the problem. Tom Brady is no longer leading this team. No one is. And if the guy’s head isn’t in the right place for personal reasons, someone else needs to step up.
Former Buccaneer quarterback turned Amazon Prime NFL commentator Ryan Fitzpatrick put it bluntly after the Thursday night Ravens game. “This team is broken,” he said, as accurately as anybody could. The rest of the analysts on the set, as much Tom Brady fans as they are football fans, looked like they had just attended a funeral. The vibe seeping from Raymond James in late October was bewitching to say the least. With the chance to finally turn things around, a home game in prime time, the Buccaneers continued to make the same old mistakes.
There’s no two ways about it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winners of the Super Bowl only a year ago, can’t do a single thing right.
And it all boils down to accountability.
Sure, you’ll hear soundbites like “we need to do better” and the pressing need to “fix their mistakes in a hurry.” It’s all cliché coach and player speak. Even Mike Evans owned up to his dropped ball by telling reporters “I’ve gotta catch that” but none of this is resonating. It’s delivered within an air of uncertainty and self-doubt, none of which have any business being in that locker room.
I don’t see any urgency. I see a team that’s down, and out, and desperately needs not only some soul-searching but a nice long break from football. Fortunately, they’re getting one. Their next game comes ten days from their last, but it doesn’t get any easier. Next up is the Los Angeles Rams, a team Tom Brady’s Bucs haven’t beaten in three tries and a team that, while not struggling as bad as the Bucs, is also suffering from a similarly, hazy Super Bowl hangover.
I know coaches are leery of openly taking the blame. With coaches being fired for even the slightest losing streaks, any admission of guilt might as well be placing your own head in the guillotine. But in no way have the Bucs hinted that Todd Bowles job is unsafe so it might be time for the generally soft-spoken Bowles to go full on Denny Green and start pounding on the podium. We are who we thought they were, coach. Or aren’t we?
I just think a little accountability, particularly from the top down, from Bowles to Brady and everyone in between, would go a long way. I haven’t heard anyone in this locker room say they’re going to get it right. Even Devin White, the young emotional leader on defense has been uncharacteristically quiet on his social media outlets. Something’s going on in that locker room and it’s the exact opposite of what happened two years ago.
It’s a dark cloud they can only shake once they man up, both individually and as a unit, and admit they are not getting the job done and won’t stop until they do.
It’s Brady admitting he’s not making the passes he’s supposed to, instead of laying into his receivers for running a wrong route or linemen for not giving him enough time. It’s the coaching staff asking themselves why they call the same unimaginative (and certainly predictable) plays and failing to make mid-game adjustments. It’s the special teams for putting their team behind the 8-ball time and time again in the game’s opening moments. It’s the defense for not making that first tackle. No one in that locker room is doing their teammates any favors. And it’s starting to wear the others down.
These Buccaneers aren’t the worst team in the league, but they are by far the most underachieving. I have news for that locker room: the beatings will continue until morale improves.
Theirs in a winnable division. They just need to go out and do that. Win it. Own what they’ve done, and what they will do to turn it around, and everything else will fall into place.
Their clock is ticking.