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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season rests with Raheem Morris

Ronde Barber, left, says of Raheem Morris: “When he has fire in his eyes, we have fire in our eyes. … We love the guy.’’

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Ronde Barber, left, says of Raheem Morris: “When he has fire in his eyes, we have fire in our eyes. … We love the guy.’’

BALTIMORE

You say you want to see more speed? Look at Raheem Morris sprint across a football field to toss a few final words into the face of an official.

You say you want to see more fire in the face of a stubborn opponent? Check out the sound and fury of Morris, his face contorted in rage as he argues against a botched pass-interference call.

You say you want higher expectations, deeper passion and greater intensity? As Morris continued to argue his way from the field to the tunnel at halftime, he seemed to be your man.

Even now, even as his Bucs enter the December portion of the schedule, Morris remains the most essential Buccaneer of them all. More than any other, he is the reason the Bucs have come so far. More than any other, he is responsible for seeing they go further.

That's why it was a good thing to see Morris at the half, still fighting for his team, still jawing, still combative. After all, it was Morris who believed when everyone else doubted his team, and now that the doubts are about to rise again, it is up to Morris to stamp them down again.

Who else is going to do it?

The season is in Morris' hands now. It doesn't matter if you blame him for Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Ravens or if you praised the seven victories that came before it. It doesn't matter if you think he has been too bold in his interviews or was too conservative in his approach against Baltimore. It doesn't matter that his team has overachieved or that the Ravens spent much of the day pointing out all the places his team still has to improve.

It is December, the month where the best coaches make the most difference.

With five games to go, it is fair to suggest the season is in Morris' hands.

That's the job description for all NFL coaches, of course. But in Tampa Bay, where Morris has made so much of an impact this season, it seems particularly important. From here, Morris has to clean up the penalties, and the sloppiness on special teams, and the sputtering defense. He is in charge of getting Josh Freeman back in synch, and of cleaning up the botched chances and the blown coverages and the bad scoreboard.

This is Morris' team, after all, and December will define how this season is remembered.

"We play like he coaches," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "The personality of this team and the pulse of this team are a reflection of him. When he has fire in his eyes, we have fire in our eyes. That's just the way this works. We love the guy.

"Winning in December is what good coaches do. As he goes as a leader, we're going to go as a team. I expect the very best out of him. And he expects it out of us."

As for everyone else, well, it will be easy to doubt today. Losing has that effect on people. It's easy to note that the Bucs' victories have come against seven teams with a combined 18-46 record, and the losses have come against teams with a combined record of 33-11. As such, it's easy to wonder how the Bucs will fare, even if they make it to the playoffs.

It's up to Morris and his team to dispel that kind of talk, too. If the Bucs want to make the playoffs, it seems reasonable to assume a victory this week against Atlanta — or later against New Orleans — will be required. Certainly, if the Bucs make it that far, they'll have to beat winning teams to keep playing.

"We just have to get better," Morris said. "We're playing meaningful games. We're a young football team. Never lose sight of that, guys. We've got a young Buc team that's hungry, that's determined, that's playing their hearts out for their city."

All of that is true enough. It was established some time ago that the Bucs are miles ahead of the 3-13 team of a year ago. As the season enters its stretch drive, however, it's easy to want more. Certainly, Morris seems to want more himself.

"I only define seasons by one thing," Morris said. "There's going to be 31 unhappy teams, and if we're not in Dallas playing for the 'ship (the Super Bowl), then we're going to be unhappy. Period."

In other words, there is no reason to modulate your expectations. You might as well expect the Bucs to win every time out.

Even Sunday, Morris kept correcting those who asked about moral victories and litmus tests. He simply talked about winning and losing.

"You guys hold these teams to higher standards than we do," Morris said. "We respect all teams, but our job is to go beat them.

"We have to go back to the lab. We've got to find a way to be better on offense, better on defense, better on special teams and win football games. Like this. There are no moral victories. They're the Ravens, and they're powerhouses and you guys want to give them credit for being powerhouses. But we've got to find ways to win. We want to be the best and that's all we're looking for."

Fair enough. The offense has to be more efficient, even against the Ravens. The defense has to be more complete, even on the road. The result has to be better, no matter what the Ravens' record is. The team has to win enough games, no matter the opponents, to get to the playoffs and beyond.

On this Sunday, the Bucs weren't good enough.

Next Sunday, it will be up to Morris to make sure they are.

Tough going against winning teams

Tampa Bay's loss to the Ravens on Sunday kept them winless against teams with a .500 record or better. The best team the Bucs have beaten is the 5-6 Rams:

BUCS 7 WINS

Opponent Score Record

Cleveland 17-14 4-7

Carolina 20-7 1-10

Cincinnati 24-21 2-9

St. Louis 18-17 5-6

Arizona 38-35 3-7*

Carolina 31-16 ---

San Francisco 21-0 3-7*

Total 169-110 18-46

* Play tonight

BUCS 4 LOSSES

Pittsburgh 38-13 8-3

New Orleans 31-6 8-3

Atlanta 27-21 9-2

Baltimore 17-10 8-3

Total 113-50 33-11

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season rests with Raheem Morris 11/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 29, 2010 8:23am]

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