Who's to blame for this mess? Who's to blame for a Bucs offense that stubbornly runs the ball like the game still is being played with leather helmets? Who's to blame for an offense that likes to sit on leads, even when it's the other team's lead?
Point a finger at offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, if you want, or quarterback Josh Freeman. You'll find plenty of support on both counts. But the real culprit? How about the guy in charge? How about head coach Greg Schiano?
He's the boss. He sets the agenda. Everyone reports to him.
But the more interesting question isn't who is to blame but why is Schiano seemingly obsessed with playing so conservatively?
Here are a few theories:
Schiano doesn't trust Josh Freeman
From the start of the second half Sunday against the Cowboys until the two-minute warning, the Bucs trailed, yet they ran the ball on eight of nine first-down plays. Trailing by nine points with less than three minutes left, the Bucs called for a running play on first down.
If you're not going to allow your fourth-year quarterback to try to win a game then, when will you? If you don't allow your quarterback to throw on first and 10, what makes you think he's going to be successful on third and 8?
For the record, Schiano said Monday, "I have a great trust level with (Freeman). No doubt in my mind he's going to do great things this year and beyond. … Do I think Josh is capable of doing more things down the field? I do."
But Schiano's actions Sunday, as well as in the opener against Carolina when the Bucs sat on the lead, suggest that he is in Freeman's head even when the headset is broken.
Schiano has turned Freeman into a robot, a caretaker instead of a playmaker, a quarterback too scared to make a mistake to make a play. Freeman seems to be handing off more than the ball when Schiano asks for one running play after another. He is handing off his swagger, his confidence, that something special that had many of us believing he was going to be a franchise quarterback.
And check this out: Schiano said Monday that Freeman usually has the freedom to audible but that the Bucs also have no-change plays. Can you imagine Peyton Manning or Drew Brees or any QB worth his weight walking up to the line, seeing a play that has no chance of working and not being able to audible out of it?
Schiano thinks he is still at Rutgers
As a college coach at Rutgers, Schiano, like many old-school college coaches, was a big believer in pounding the ball, winning the time of possession, imposing his team's will on opponents. Running over and over in the first, second and third quarters would pay off in the fourth. In college, forget about audibles. You can announce what you are going to do and then go out and do it because you are just better, bigger, meaner and stronger than the other guy. That might work against Pitt or Louisville. That doesn't work in the NFL. When an NFL team lines up to stop the run — as the Cowboys did Sunday — you know what happens? You can't run, and you end up losing a bunch of 16-10 games.
Schiano is a micromanager
There are times you wonder if Schiano is more interested in the time of possession than the score. It seems as if he is more interested in (his) style points than actual points. It seems as if he is more interested in doing things his way just to show that his formula for winning proves he's the smartest guy in the room. So far in his rookie NFL season it has proven only that he might be the most stubborn guy in the room.
Schiano said if the Bucs had won Sunday, many would be saying: "Man, this is Bucs football: great defense, time of possession, winning the kicking game and you win. As it turns out, when you lose, it's too conservative."
Yeah, if it wasn't for that pesky way the league determines results based on which team scores more points, the Bucs would be all set.
You know what the offense's problem is? It's all these things. Schiano has yet to fully commit to Freeman. He still has a college mind-set. He is a micromanager. He's stubborn.
Eventually he's going to have to take the handcuffs off Freeman. He's going to have to open up the offense.
Hey, he's coached only three NFL games. He has a learning curve, too. Ultimately, however, Schiano is going to have to trust his team to go out and win games instead of having it try not to lose them.