TAMPA — From the top of Raymond James Stadium, dark clouds were brewing in the distance.
It was still early in the fourth quarter, yet ominous weather threatened the ending of Sunday's Bucs-Broncos game. Soon, you could see a long parade of red car lights heading out of the parking lots as the skies unloaded on an empty stadium.
It was the perfect ending to an imperfect day for Tampa Bay. And it felt like the beginning of another crummy football season.
This season already feels over. Another one down the drain. It's not, of course. The NFL can be rather unpredictable. But, man, it's hard to see hope when all we've seen is overcast skies and severe storms.
The Bucs were beaten, bullied and battered by the defending champions Sunday. No surprise there. The Broncos make a lot of teams look like they should take up another profession. Let's face it, the Broncos are a better team than the Bucs. A lot better. Just like the Cardinals were two weeks ago.
But it's not that the Bucs are losing these games. It's how they are losing.
These are beatdowns. These are blowouts. Embarrassments.
The Bucs aren't competitive. They aren't relevant. What's worse, they simply don't look like a team that is getting any better.
It's hard to go from last place to first overnight. Rookies don't become stars without growing pains. You don't go from losing to everyone to beating Super Bowl champs in a span of a season and a quarter.
But where is the reason for optimism? Do you get the sense that this team is on the verge of being special? Any flashes of something positive?
"I still think we're going to be a good football team," coach Dirk Koetter said. "We weren't good enough (Sunday) in a lot of areas, starting with coaching, starting with my coaching. We've got to do better."
That's for sure.
The quarterback is going in reverse, playing hot potato with the football almost every game and at the most inopportune times. Injuries are piling up on defense, and the season feels like it's dangling over the cliff. After an opening-week victory, the Bucs have lost three in a row, including one to a team (Rams) that everyone circled as a sure Tampa Bay victory.
And, oh, the defending NFC champion Panthers, a team the Bucs haven't beaten since 2012, are up next, a week from tonight. The Bucs have won one game, and you start to wonder when the second one will be.
Already this season, the head coach has talked about something missing in the culture, and Sunday had about a half-dozen of those are-you-kidding-me moments.
Like quarterback Jameis Winston throwing an interception to former Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib on Tampa Bay's first possession. That, naturally, set up a Broncos touchdown.
Like Winston throwing another interception, again to Talib. That, of course, set up another Broncos touchdown.
Like Koetter and his suddenly one-dimensional offense — that, quite honestly, is having difficulty with even that one dimension — having another eye-blink of a drive that cost Tampa Bay points. Late in the first half, the Bucs had a 16-second drive that killed no Denver timeouts and allowed the Broncos to tack on three extra points before intermission.
Like when Charles Sims thought it would be a good idea to pitch the ball to Winston while the Broncos defense held a team meeting on his back. Sims' head-shaking play, in which he looked like he was playing the kids' game Kill the Carrier, would have been downright comical if it weren't so pathetic.
And it's those type of plays that sum up the Bucs. Koetter seems grim, and Winston keeps churning out the same cliches.
"Just keep fighting," Winston said. "It's never over this early in the year."
Not over. But it sure feels like the storms aren't letting up anytime soon.