If Greg Schiano remains the Bucs coach in 2014, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan might end up taking the fall for this mess.
A year ago, Sullivan directed the ninth-ranked offense in the league, the highest finish in club history. The Bucs set club records for points (389), yards (5,820) and touchdowns (44).
From Weeks 6-9, they had four games with at least 400 yards of offense, including two with more than 500. The 1,907 yards are the most over a four-game span in franchise history.
But now they face their worst offensive ranking in 16 years. Only the Jaguars have produced fewer yards. The last time the Bucs finished next-to-last in the league in offense was 1997. (And the Jaguars trail by only 81 yards.)
"There's no excuses," Sullivan said. "I'm never going to have a pity party, never point to what could be better, what we have, what we don't have. From Day 1, whether we're having great success and setting franchise records or if we're struggling, the struggle part I'll take full responsibility for. I've got big shoulders, and I know that there are no excuses. I don't know any other way. To throw up my hands and get frustrated — any of those things aren't going to serve a purpose."
If Sullivan, previously the Giants' quarterbacks coach, were looking for excuses, there is no shortage. Start with the Bucs' plan to stick with Josh Freeman at quarterback. He was benched after an 0-3 start, forcing Sullivan to turn to rookie Mike Glennon.
Season-ending injuries to RBs Doug Martin and Mike James, WR Mike Williams and TEs Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree and the recurring MRSA in G Carl Nicks certainly put the Bucs on a lopsided playing field.
Even so, the epic fail in the second half of games and obvious regression of Glennon might be too much for Sullivan to overcome. In hopes of shaking things up, Sullivan agreed to move upstairs and call games from the coaches' box following the bye week. It hasn't helped.
What's more, speculation is his obvious replacement is already on staff in quarterbacks coach John McNulty. Schiano attempted to hire McNulty, his former assistant at Rutgers, as offensive coordinator when he came to the Bucs. But the Cardinals wouldn't grant permission for the Bucs to interview him.
The task won't get easier for the Bucs today. The 49ers are one of two teams that have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. And they have allowed the fewest completions of 15 yards or more of any club.
That's why Sullivan doesn't have time to consider his plight or his future.
"Obviously, if I had the magic wand or the certain answer, then we'd have the problem solved," Sullivan said. "But in terms of you asking me how do I feel about it? Certainly frustrated, certainly disappointed but, above all else, determined to get it right this week."
NOTHING FINER: It was the 1997 regular-season opener, and the Bucs ultimately made a playoff appearance. The 49ers had won the Super Bowl two seasons earlier and were led by future Hall of Fame QB Steve Young and WR Jerry Rice.
Tampa Bay won that game 13-7, signaling it had arrived — or at least its defense had.
This afternoon, the Bucs play the defending NFC champion 49ers. Despite winning four of its past five games, many say Schiano's team lacks a signature win over a legitimate playoff team.
"A win is a win. I don't really look into a signature win," CB Darrelle Revis said. "I mean it would be special if we win because they're one of the top teams in the NFL. But at the same time, a win is a win. We've got 16 weeks to perform and try and get to the playoffs. I just look at every game … win or a loss, you move on and prepare for the next week.
"Don't get me wrong. The 49ers, they're … one of the top teams in the league. They've got a lot of talent, and we're looking forward to (facing) it."