Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If anyone cares about Bucs-Bills, Schiano does

Forgettable team here. Forgettable team there.

Hard-nosed coach from the Big East here. Hard-nosed coach from the Big East there.

Rookie quarterback leading the 29th-ranked passing attack in the league here. Rookie quarterback leading the 30th-ranked passing attack in the league there.

Egad. Talk about your broken mirrors. Just asking, but is this an NFL game or an intersquad scrimmage?

Aside from the occasional Browns-Texans game, this could be the league's worst matchup in a long time. The defense that isn't Brooks, Sapp and Lynch playing against the offense that isn't Kelly, Thomas and Reid?

It has been a long time since Tampa Bay mattered in the NFL. Ditto, Buffalo. The Bucs have had too many dismal seasons under too many dismal coaches and too many average quarterbacks.

You can say the same about the Bills. Together, they are franchises on the fringe of an afterthought. It's like the New Mexico State-Idaho game. If you aren't from one place or the other, you might forget they are still playing.

So who is leaning forward in their seat for this game? Who can muster an ounce of interest when these teams play?

Well, there is Greg Schiano.

The reason is simple. Schiano needs this game. He needs to go at least .500 in the second half of the season. He needs to outcoach Buffalo's Doug Marrone, who seems like the JV version of Schiano.

Most of all, Schiano must avoid the December swoon that has cost a lot of Bucs coaches their jobs.

You remember Raheem Morris, don't you? Back in 2011, Morris was fighting for his job. He was already 4-7, and the wolves were gathering. After December, however, his team gave up the chase, and Morris was doomed. The team went 0-4 in December, giving up 158 points in the month. Just to be sure, it then lost a 45-24 game on Jan. 1.

You remember Jon Gruden, don't you? Back in 2008, Gruden was sailing along with a 9-3 record. Then the rumors that defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was leaving began, and the team fell into a giant hole. The Bucs lost four straight, three of them by large margins. And the Glazers had seen enough.

You remember Tony Dungy, don't you? Actually, it wasn't December overall that did in Dungy. It was New Year's Eve in 2000 and early January 2002 and those back-to-back playoff losses to Philadelphia.

Sam Wyche went 1-3 in his last December. Richard Williamson went 1-3. Ray Perkins went 1-0 in his final December … and was fired with three games left. Leeman Bennett never did win a game in December.

Around here, how a coach finishes often determines whether he is finished. Which, of course, leads us back to Schiano, who must try mightily not to fall into a hole today. Could Schiano survive going 0-5 in December? Won't it take at least one win, and possibly two, for him to keep his job?

It isn't an easy thing giving a fair evaluation to Schiano. He didn't have much to do with the MRSA fallout, and it's hard to blame him for all of the problems with former starting quarterback Josh Freeman, and the team has had a lot of injuries.

Still, a coach is paid to win, and Schiano hasn't done enough of that. He is paid to adjust. He is paid to make a team progress.

Yes, the three-game winning streak was nice while it lasted but not if that's all this season has to offer. For goodness' sake, has it been such a dark decade around here that a single three-game streak is going to send fans home happy?

Shouldn't a team have a couple of three-win streaks, and maybe a few other wins mixed in, before anyone is satisfied with the coaching? With the general managing? With the rest of the franchise? Are our standards that low?

So, yeah, the Bucs need this one. They need Mike Glennon to outplay fellow rookie EJ Manuel. They need their 16th-ranked defense to outplay the Bills' 17th-ranked defense even if the final score is 5-2 in overtime.

Ahead, there are the 49ers, and a trip to St. Louis, and a trip to New Orleans. In other words, this will probably be the last game in which the Bucs are favored. Winning seems like a swell idea.

In other words, it's a good week to play the Bills, a franchise that still leaves the light on for Marv Levy to return. Someday, maybe it will brush the cobwebs from the trophy case.

Time was, Buffalo used to matter as much as any team in the AFC. Hall of Famers played there. Fast guys. Tough guys. Skilled guys. And then it all went away.

The same thing happened here. Great players, most of them on defense, defined this franchise for a while.

If there is a lesson for both teams, it is that the past can be hard to recapture. The Bills have been trying for 20 years. The Bucs for 11. For both teams, the streaks keep going.

Is Schiano the guy to make it happen here? If so, today is a big day for him.

Try to stay awake, won't you?

Comments

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