They were the last images of the Bucs under coach Greg Schiano this season. • His high-priced defensive backs chasing receivers through the end zone at the Superdome. Saints quarterback Drew Brees putting up video game numbers with 381 yards and four touchdown passes (and running for a fifth). And a botched fake field goal used more by preps than pros that Schiano wished he had back. • The result Sunday was a 42-17 defeat to the playoff-bound Saints — the most points allowed during Schiano's two seasons — and the third straight loss by the Bucs, who finished 4-12. • On a podium outside of the locker room, Schiano, who is 11-21, sounded like a tumbleweed coach clinging to his job. Used to controlling his environment right down to the thermostat, he knows the heat is going to be turned up on the Glazers, the team's owners, by frustrated Bucs fans. • But Schiano didn't believe he needed to explain why he believes he still is the best man to lead the Bucs.
"I don't think I need to say anything," Schiano said. "That's not being smug in any way. I come and do my job the best I can, and that's other people's decisions to make. That's how I've always approached it. That's not going to change.
"I can tell you this: It's a really tough time in that locker room right now for players and coaches because of the amount of physical and emotional energy that's been invested in this season. I'll just say it's been one of the most demanding seasons that I've ever been a part of. Things kept coming, kept coming, kept coming. That's why this group of men … it's a great group of people because they stuck together and worked hard. And that's what I've asked them to do."
The day began full of promise for Schiano. Several national media reports listed his job status as "safe" on the eve of Black Monday — the day after the regular season ends and when unsuccessful coaches are usually fired.
In fact, the Browns got a jump on the pack, firing Rob Chudzinski Sunday night after he went 4-12 in his only season.
If the Bucs decide to make a change, Schiano might have a soft landing. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner is considering flying to Tampa to make a push to hire Schiano should his coach, Bill O'Brien, leave for the NFL, as expected.
"I made the comment on Wednesday, and I'll reiterate it," Schiano said. "I or no one connected with me has had any contact with Penn State. The job I have is the job I want."
Schiano was right about one thing.
The players in the locker room Sunday were spent physically and emotionally. The mistrust between Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman that led to Freeman's benching and eventual release, the three cases of MRSA, the 0-8 start, the 16 players who finished the season on injured reserve — it took a toll.
"It's been tough," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "It's been a roller coaster of emotions; so many ups and downs, highs and lows, positives and negatives. It's just a very, very weird season; the weirdest season I've ever been a part of. Everybody agreed the second half of the season was completely different from the first; very demanding, for sure."
Every cloud has its silver lining, and after the game, Schiano thanked his team for sticking together.
"It's probably the best team I've been around since I've been here," guard Davin Joseph said. "The best team talent, camaraderie and everything. The record doesn't show that."
Cornerback Darrelle Revis agreed.
"I remember going 4-12 my rookie year (with the Jets), and there was a lot of pointing fingers. And guys were selfish on that '07 team when I was a rookie," Revis said. "But I'll tell you this team, we stuck together. I've got to tip my hat to my teammates and coaches."
Several players praised Schiano for navigating the storms. When pressed, most said they want to see him back in 2014. Revis stopped short of that.
"That's not my call," he said. "I don't make those big-time decisions, those management decisions."
It also might not be Mark Dominik's call. The Bucs general manager also likely will face a tough evaluation. His five-year record, which includes no postseason appearances, fell to 28-52.
All could agree about this: 4-12 wasn't very good. The only question is: Was it good enough?
"I'm not satisfied with four (wins)," Schiano said. "(Whether I stay) is not my decision. How many (wins) is enough?"
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.