Tampa Bay Buccaneers Progress Report: Team in Win Mode After Playoff Elimination

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterDecember 20, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 16:   Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers calls a play against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 16, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a nice run for six weeks after their bye. From Week 6 to 11, the Bucs were 5-1 and every bit in the playoff conversation, even after a 1-3 start to the season.

But Tampa Bay lost its last four games—the most recent a 41-0 beatdown at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. That loss not only has the franchise trying to answer some very tough questions, but it knocked the team from any mathematical shot at postseason play.

Head coach Greg Schiano told the media Wednesday in his press conference that he was still in “win mode” even though the Bucs have been eliminated from the playoffs. He feels this franchise is still trying to build, and winning games with the starters is the way to get better as quickly as possible.

But there are issues to deal with; those aforementioned tough questions that have popped up.

The simplest issue, yet the one that could get nasty quickly, is the rumor that a Tampa Bay player was quoted as asking if the Bucs coaches could be sent “back to college.”

Several players, according to the Tampa Tribune, denied that the quote could possibly have been uttered. But Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk stood by his anonymous source.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for grumblings to come from Schiano’s methods. There’s no denying his almost militaristic ways are working, but it’s impossible to completely manage every aspect of a professional football players' existence and not ruffle a feather or two.

I believe the core of the locker believes in Schiano and supports him. But I also believe that statement was made to Florio.

A second issue, and this one’s been burning up the sports-talk airwaves in the Tampa area this week, revolves around quarterback Josh Freeman. Is Freeman the right quarterback to run this offense moving forward?

This question is baffling. Of course he is!

Yes, he had a stinker of a game against the Saints, throwing four picks and missing targets aplenty. He’s also been mired in a slump where he hasn’t posted a quarterback rating over 91 since Week 10.

But let’s not forget that Freeman was one of the driving forces in Tampa Bay’s explosion after the bye week. His five-week stretch where he threw 13 touchdown passes and only one interception goes a long way toward showing me that he can be the real deal.

Is Freeman where he needs to be? No. But he’s made a huge change of course from last year’s 22-interception performance. And unless the wheels completely fall off the bus over the last two weeks, he’ll set a new career best in passing yards (he’s 121 yards shy of his record).

Finally, is there something wrong with rookie running back Doug Martin?

Take away his 128-yard Week 14 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he hasn’t gone over 56 yards since Week 11. Has he hit that mystical rookie wall?

Schiano said Wednesday that two of Martin’s three subpar performances were because the game situation forced the Buccaneers to move away from Martin and the run. He also said that he had a lot of faith in Martin, and the right move was to keep using the rookie in a full capacity.

With 1,250 yards, Martin ranks No. 5 in the NFL in rushing and will get to add onto his tally over the next two weeks. He’s averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored 10 rushing touchdowns.

There’s nothing wrong with Martin.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.