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Bucs-Saints: Tampa Bay has clearly lost its way

By Rick Stroud
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston sits on the bench after being replaced with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]

NEW ORLEANS — The quarterback was out of the game, the result of yet another hit on his injured right shoulder. But Jameis Winston, who licked his fingers in a team huddle during warmups Sunday as if he was eating a ‘W,’ used one of those digits to point Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore to the other sideline in the third quarter.

Winston made contact with Lattimore’s helmet. Lattimore pushed Winston, and receiver Mike Evans blindsided the rookie, knocking him to the turf and setting off an embarrassing melee near the Bucs bench.

"I let my emotions get the best of me, and it’s something I shouldn’t have done," Evans said. "It was very childish. I shouldn’t have done that. Unprofessional.’’

"Unprofessional" is a good way to describe the Bucs for most of their 30-10 loss to the Saints — who won their sixth straight — at the Superdome.

So are uninspired and undisciplined.

The Bucs’ fifth straight loss dropped them to 2-6 — third worst in the NFC behind the winless 49ers and one-win Giants — 0-2 in the NFC South and closer to oblivion. A damage assessment is ongoing.

Losing a game in which the Bucs had a punt blocked, could not tackle and could not score a touchdown until about seven minutes left in the game is one thing.

But the Bucs have lost their way. What’s their path forward from this?

"We probably bought into all the preseason hype on how good this football team is going to be, and unfortunately we’re not a good football team right now,’’ tackle Demar Dotson said. "With all the hype that was given us, it don’t put wins on the board. We got to go out there and play, and we’re not playing good. We thought we had everything we needed to get us over the hump. Unfortunately, we’re nowhere near the hump.’’

Consider all the unknowns after their sixth straight road loss:

• The Bucs don’t know whether Winston could or should continue playing this season.

Winston said doctors would not let him go back into the game after defensive end Alex Okafor drove his right shoulder into the turf in the first half.

"It’s the doctors,’’ Winston said. "They pulled me. That’s all I know.

"It’s the same thing that’s been happening every week. I don’t know why. It’s not my decision. It’s over my head.’’

Initial tests showed no additional damage to the shoulder other than the AC sprain he suffered at Arizona in Week 6. He aggravated the injury on a hit at Buffalo in Week 7 and did it again on a hit in a loss to Carolina last weekend.

After completing only 8 of 15 passes for 68 yards Sunday, Winston was asked if the shoulder is affecting his accuracy.

"It’s like an ‘if and/or but.’ I don’t know," he said.

If Winston can’t play Sunday against the Jets, the Bucs will have to choose between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Griffin, who is designated to return from injured reserve.

• The Bucs don’t know if they will have Evans against the Jets.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Evans should have been ejected for flattening Lattimore. The Bucs were penalized, and Evans faces a hefty fine and most likely a suspension for at least one game by the league.

• The Bucs don’t know who will be held the most accountable for this mess.

There will be a lot of speculation about coach Dirk Koetter’s job in the next few days, weeks or months. General manager Jason Licht won’t be spared scrutiny, either.

The family that owns the team knows how to fire coaches, but the Glazers don’t normally do it in the middle of a season.

"We weren’t good enough (Sunday) in any phase, and of course it starts with me,’’ Koetter said somberly. "The type of football we’re playing right now, we can’t get punts blocked. We can’t have four sacks. We can’t miss tackles in the run game and then not be able to run the football. We’re just not playing good enough in any aspect, and that all starts with the head coach.’’

During the five-game losing streak, the Bucs have scored 16 points total in the first half. They have allowed 30 or more points in all four of their road games.

Koetter was asked if he was concerned about his job security.

"Well, when you play like we did (Sunday), obviously I’m concerned about every aspect, and obviously that’s my responsibility,’’ he said.

• The Bucs don’t know which players will continue to fight and believe in their coaches, and which ones will tune them out.

"You try not to concern yourself with that, but I’ve been around three head coaches that have gotten fired,’’ Dotson said. "Dirk is going to go up there and say, ‘It’s my fault.’ But it’s not him.

"I’ve been on that side of the fence when you’re 2-6 and guys start shutting it down. It goes from 2-6 to 3-13. We don’t want that.’’

Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] Follow @NFLStroud

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