I haven't been posting after the Buccaneer losses, starting with Thanksgiving at Dallas.
I'll just sum it up like this: The Bucs won't win again (except maybe against Cleveland) until they either develop a pass rush or win the turnover battle decisively.
1) The Bucs' pass rush has been pretty much absent since Simeon Rice injured his shoulder earlier this year. Ellis Wyms has actually improved the pass rush filling for the traded Booger McFarland (now with Indianapolis), but he has also been injured and has missed a few games. The defense put some pressure on Michael Vick, so it's not impossible that the pass rush will still develop this year (though too late to help the team make the playoffs).
2) I've been on the Gradkowski bandwagon since early on, but I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses, either. The rookie QB has grown tentative in the pocket and isn't seeing the field well. He also continues to struggle throwing the deep ball, missing a wide-open Joey Galloway with an overthrown pass today. Granted, today was a windy day and Gradkowski has thrown some deep passes that should have been caught, but I think it's fair to say that he's struggling with the long pass this year.
Despite the Bucs' struggles, this game against Atlanta could easily have been won. The team came away from two early drives with field goals instead of touchdowns. The Bucs were winning 6-0 and on the way to more points when Gradkowski was sacked and fumbled. The Falcons scored to take the lead on the play.
The defense surrendered only 10 points, with three of those coming off a turnover that was already within easy FG range.
The fumble that Atlanta returned for a touchdown was a key play in the game--probably the key play of the game--and it was reviewed by officials after they told coach Gruden that the play could not be reviewed. Most in the crowd (judging by the impressive booing) thought that the officials blew the call after the review, since a Buccaneer player clearly comes down on top of the ball. Unfortunately, I think the officials made the right call on the play. While the Buccaneer player does come down on top of the ball, it would have been a stretch to claim that he ever controlled it, regardless of whether an opposing player touched him while he was on top of the football. It was the right call by the officials, and some bad luck for the Bucs that the play turned out as it did.
I'm really not happy seeing my team get swept in its division. The bottom line is that if the team does the things that bad teams do on a relatively consistent basis, it's a bad team. I don't like having to make that admission. I thought the Bucs would stay near .500 on their off years because of good coaching, low taxes, and a good front office (and I didn't even think that this would be an off year until it became apparent that Chris Simms' struggles early in the year were not purely a fluke).
There are some fairly good excuses available, but I'd hate to use any of them. Every team struggles with coaching changes and injuries to one degree or another. On the good side, this team does have some decent talent so the turnaround could be just around the corner. I think the team needs a QB who can read defenses, consistency on the offensive line, a defensive tackle who disrupts things at least 75 percent as well as Warren Sapp did it, and a new safety or two.
We may already have the quarterback (though I couldn't yet name him from the group we've got--I've trusting that potential plus time might solve the problem). The offensive line just needs to avoid key injuries and get some experience--I think they will do okay. The defensive tackle is a key need unless Ellis Wyms proves that he's more than a backup and that his tendency to get injured isn't going to be a problem (right now I don't see it). The safeties might look a whole lot better if the team were getting a pass rush, but there have clearly been some breakdowns in the back line this year, so I'm sticking with calling it a problem.