The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to 0-3 on Sunday courtesy of a 23-3 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. In doing so, they failed to put to bed any of the rumors or speculation that has surrounded the team in recent days.
Whether it's the players-only meeting called to discuss Greg Schiano's coaching style, as reported by Albert Breer of NFL.com, or it's drama surrounding speculated trade requests by quarterback Josh Freeman, as pointed out by Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, it's clear that the locker room in Tampa Bay is unsettled with the slow start to the season.
So what can we take away from this defeat which almost certainly cements the Buccaneers as playoff outsiders in 2013? Let's start with the good news.
Doug Martin carried the ball 20 times for 88 yards over the course of a game in which his team struggled to stay competitive. He continues to deliver excellent performances, regardless of the play of his supporting cast.
With the return of All-Pro guard Carl Nicks, Martin had an impressive day on the ground, all things considered. Averaging more than four yards per carry against the Patriots is certainly nothing to look down upon.
The Buccaneers have to continue to use Martin as often as possible, as he's the only consistent contributor on offense when he carries the football. He fights for every yard, and has been on the verge of breaking a huge run multiple times already this season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had an awful day catching the football, with multiple drops and missed opportunities in the passing game likely cost the team points that would have kept the game competitive.
Star receiver Vincent Jackson was the main culprit, as multiple passes hit his hands and then ricocheted off for incompletions. Jackson is Josh Freeman's favorite target, and he has to have sure hands for the Buccaneers to be productive on offense.
But Jackson wasn't alone, as running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Kevin Ogletree also let catchable passes fall to the turf today in Foxboro. When a team has a shaky quarterback to begin with, they cannot allow drops and missed opportunities as receivers to exacerbate the problem.
Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams both spent time on the sidelines during Sunday's game with injuries, and it revealed that the Buccaneers simply cannot survive on offense without them.
Josh Freeman already lacked a tertiary target in the passing game, as none of his other receivers or tight ends are productive players as pass catchers. But without Jackson or Williams in the game, the Buccaneers simply had no hope to advance the football.
The best example of this came in the second half, when Josh Freeman let go of a quick slant to Eric Page, and the ball sailed over Page's head. That's a play typically run by Vincent Jackson, who is much taller than Page and regularly goes up to cover for high throws by Freeman.
Kevin Ogletree also failed to deliver as a substitute receiver, as he failed during the fourth quarter to haul in an underthrown pass from Freeman. He's dropped multiple passes since becoming a Buccaneer, dating back to the preseason, and seems to be a less-than-worthwhile signing for the Bucs.
The Buccaneers yet again allowed mental errors and mistakes to cost them in critical moments. The difference is, this week it wasn't a heartbreaking, last-second mistake that cost the team the game.
The Bucs squandered multiple opportunities in New England territory, coming away with only three points in the game despite multiple chances to get the ball into the end zone.
One play that stands out was a pass to tight end Tim Wright, who is a converted wide receiver. He got open in the end zone and got tangled up with his own feet in an attempt to make a catch for a score. The ball fell incomplete, and the Buccaneers missed out on a chance to put the Patriots behind early.
The Buccaneers played very well for the first 20 minutes of the game, as they had Tom Brady rattled, and Freeman was actually looking like the better quarterback for a while.
But a missed field goal, a crucial holding penalty and dropped passes doomed the Buccaneers, who were unable to convert on multiple fourth down conversion attempts and came up lacking in almost every "clutch" situation in the game.
Josh Freeman started off Sunday's game looking quite impressive, hitting open receivers and moving the ball down the field against the Patriots.
He finally hit a back shoulder throw, something the Buccaneers used with great results in 2012, but has yet to be seen in 2013. He was also accurate on a pair of deeper passes, and still managed to move the ball with short passing.
His receivers dropped multiple passes, and he faced plenty of pressure, so his final line of statistics betrays his performance. Freeman looked sharp on multiple occasions, and at least for a while, he looked like he might be ready to silence some of his critics.
But the reality of the situation is a bit more brutal for the fifth-year quarterback for the Bucs...
As I pointed out in this article for Bleacher Report, Josh Freeman needs to be benched after today's performance.
It has nothing to do with how good Mike Glennon is or how much better the Bucs will be with a different player under center. It has to do with the reality of the situation for Freeman.
He's in his fifth year in the NFL and has yet to show improvement in key areas that have plagued him since he was in college. He's still inaccurate, he still makes bad decisions and the playcalling and schemes on offense are limited by the team's lack of trust in Freeman to make the right decisions.
Freeman ended the game with his worst quarterback rating of the season at 54.5, and his completion percentage was under 50 percent for the third game in a row. He's clearly shown that he's not worthy of a contract extension, so the Buccaneers should move on to Mike Glennon and put the Josh Freeman era into the past.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to waste the skills and abilities of the best defensive back in the NFL, and it makes no sense at all.
Last week against the New Orleans Saints, the Buccaneers used Darrelle Revis in zone coverage far too often. Sander Philipse of BucsNation pointed out the shortcomings of the Buccaneers defensive schemes as it pertains to the All-Pro cornerback, and had this gem of a quote to top it off:
You did not trade two draft picks for a shutdown cornerback to play zone coverage. You did not pay Darrelle Revis $16 million per year to do things any of a dozen free agent cornerbacks could have done. And while the defense is good, it could be dominant if they started using Revis to do what he does: shut down the opposing team's best wide receiver.
The Buccaneers did the same thing again on Sunday against the Patriots, keeping Revis in a zone and allowing the Patriots to dominate the middle of the field in the passing game. Multiple times in the game, Revis was lined up against a wide receiver who would simply run a drag away from him into the middle of the field, and wind up wide open.
Revis would have dominated any of the New England receivers on Sunday, and yet he was put into zone coverage far too often, and not allowed to do what he does best.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, there's been no shortage of drama surrounding the Buccaneers over the past week. With yet another loss, and an 0-3 record, those rumblings aren't going away any time soon.
Losing breeds dissatisfaction, and that culminates in media leaks and negative reports. As I wrote for The Pewter Plank, the biggest issue for the Buccaneers is knowing that they're wasting talent and could be doing so much better in this young season.
Sitting at the bottom of the NFC South, the Bucs have little hope of making the playoffs, even with 13 games left to play. With that, players will become unhappy and issues with the coaching staff and schemes will come to the surface with more frequency.
Greg Schiano does not have the winning pedigree to continue running the team using his hard-nosed style and expect his players to fall in line.
And while he might move on from his quarterback in the coming weeks, he needs to be careful, because his team might also move on from him at the end of the season if things don't turn around quickly.