A brand new Bucs season got underway Monday.
Take it easy, you didn't imagine Sunday's 16-10 victory over the Panthers. You see, this is how they do things now over at One Buc Place. Every week is a new season. Last week was "Panthers season." This week, as the Bucs prepare to play the defending Super Bowl champs, it's "Giants season."
The clock in the locker room at One Buc counting down to Sunday's Giants game was reset the moment the Carolina game ended. It's a constant reminder of the work to be done before the Bucs take the field again.
And, now that we mention it, the Bucs have plenty of work to do.
This is the part where I say I'm not trying to be Debbie Downer. Really, I'm not. The Bucs lose enough games that it seems rather cruddy to chip away at the cracks in any victory, especially one as encouraging as Greg Schiano's debut. Sunday's victory, indeed, was encouraging. Lots of positives. Lots of stars. Lots of reasons to be optimistic.
But also lots of reasons for at least a little concern. Such as:
They had a hard time closing
The defense held on, but the 16-10 victory was closer than it needed to be. The Bucs committed no turnovers, intercepted two passes, blocked a punt and got great field position thanks to a rare interference penalty on a punt. All that and they won by only six points at home against a so-so team.
The Panthers were one big play away from taking the lead for much of the second half. If not for a game-saving knockdown of a pass by Bucs rookie safety Mark Barron, we might be dissecting a loss today. Play that way against Eli Manning and the Giants and the Bucs are more likely to lose 17-16 than win 16-10.
Who was calling the plays in the second half, Mitt Romney? Sarah Palin? Or worse yet, Mike Shula? On their first three possessions of the game, the Bucs racked up 172 yards and scored every time. On seven second-half possessions they had 87 yards and only three points.
"We have to learn to put games away," Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn said. "We got to keep the pedal to the metal. We had chances early to put the game away. We slowed down in the second half. That's something we need to work on."
It's hard to tell whether the players exhaled or the coaches slammed on the brakes.
"I don't think it was overly conservative," said Schiano, who chalked up the play-calling to the circumstances of the game, such as for poor field position and more pressure in the second half from the Panthers.
Are the Bucs stunting the growth of QB Josh Freeman?
In the second half, the Bucs seemed more interested in trying to find the finish line that than trying to move the ball. As a result, Freeman was turned into a caretaker instead of a playmaker. He threw for just 16 yards in the second half.
Avoiding interceptions and sacks took precedent over making a play. You just hope the Bucs aren't programming Freeman into being the next Joe Flacco or Alex Smith instead of encouraging him to become the next Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. Hey, nothing wrong with Flacco and Smith as long as you have a defense like the Ravens or 49ers … which the Bucs don't.
No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson caught four passes, but had a couple of drops. Guard Ted Larsen had two penalties, raising questions once again about how badly the Bucs could miss Davin Joseph. Too many drives ended in field goals instead of touchdowns.
"We've got to come in and grade ourselves critically about what we did wrong and what we could do better," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
Looking for a grade from Sunday? Forget A's and B's and C's. The only letters that Schiano and the Bucs care about are W's and L's and the Bucs got a W. Ultimately that's all that matters. But the Bucs surely must hope that "this season" goes better than "last season."
Where were the big plays?
The longest completion of the day was a 33-yarder to tight end Dallas Clark. The next longest completion was only 21 yards. A couple of deep balls didn't pan out, and a penalty wiped out a 31-yard completion. But there's no question that the Bucs were tortoises and not hares. Two of the Bucs' four scoring drives took 13 plays. Do you know how hard it is to consistently put together 13-play drives without having them derailed by a dropped pass, a sack or penalty?