“Start fast.” It’s a common NFL trope about opening the game with a rapid if methodical scoring drive. Coaches want to set the tone early as its easier to sustain than it is to change the tempo once the opposing team has already established it.
The Buccaneers straight up suck in this regard.
Dating back to Raheem Morris’ slow starts with Josh Freeman, the Bucs have been terrible at the start of games for years. This year it’s taken a more disturbing manifestation where the Bucs’ poor coaching and lack of mental fortitude is epitomized in a single play.
Against both Tennessee and New Orleans, the Bucs were seemingly undone by the first play of the game. In Week 1, a personal foul on safety Major Wright rendered the Bucs timid for the remainder of the game according to Lavonte David per JoeBucsFan. Marcus Mariota went on to look like Steve Young for the rest of the game, throwing 4 touchdowns on a listless Bucs defense.
Now, before you go blaming Gerald McCoy for the defense’s convalescence, the exact same thing happened to the Bucs offense in Week 14 against the Saints. A 38-yard completion by Jameis Winston to Vincent Jackson was called back after a holding penalty by Donovan Smith. After that, Winston gained only 182 yards and a touchdown against a New Orleans pass defense that was allowing 286 yards and 3 touchdowns per game.
The Bucs came out flat against the Rams last week, but there’s no single play to pinpoint where things went wrong. Instead, the team as a whole just wasn’t ready to play Thursday night (though this is somewhat endemic of Thursday games).
A football game is never truly determined by just one play. However, these are certainly cases where one play had entirely too much impact on the team’s overall performance.
There’s one person who deserves the blame for this. No, again, it’s not Gerald McCoy even if certain bloggers and so many fans would probably blame him for global warming or your cereal getting soggy. It’s not Jameis Winston either.
It’s Lovie Smith. Of course it’s Lovie Smith.
For all the hubbub made about pre-game rituals, who’s a locker room leader and why a player might be smiling at any given moment before, during or after a game, it’s the head coach who has to set the tone for his team. Lovie Smith is ultimately responsible for how ready the Bucs are to play before the game begins.
Smith routinely proves incapable of ensuring his team’s readiness, mentally or strategically. The longer he’s on the Bucs’ sideline, the less apparent it becomes that he can lead Tampa Bay back to a winning path.
With the Bucs now eliminated from the playoffs, the shine is officially worn on Lovie Smith’s head coaching tenure. If he can’t turn his team around next year, it should no longer be his team.