The apathy is rising. The stadium is empty. The misery is growing.
And so Raheem Morris leaves the field in the usual way, quickly and grimly. He is at a full trot as he hits the tunnel, as if he is trying to get away from the carnage as fast as the ticket-buyers. His chin is high, and his lips are tight and, once again, his team is beaten.
Once again, Morris' team has lost, and once again, watching it perform has been something like ocular torture. Thirteen games, 12 losses for the Bucs, and this one might have been the worst of them all. It is like watching a franchise scrape the bottom of the barrel as it sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
Can Morris survive this ineptitude?
Should Morris survive this ineptitude?
With every defeat, the question seems more reasonable. With every empty seat, with every unsuccessful drive, with every step the Bucs take toward a possible 1-15 season, it becomes easier to wonder about the future of the franchise, and the future of its head coach, and whether those two are necessarily intertwined.
Put it this way: If NFL coaches were politicians who had to run for their offices, would you vote for Morris in 2010?
Answer: Unless he ran more successfully than his Bucs, probably not.
Certainly, Sunday's 26-3 clobbering at the hands of the New York Jets wasn't a good argument for Morris. The Jets were a .500 team, and they were playing with a cadaver at quarterback, and the Bucs were at home. And you got the feeling that if the teams had played until New Year's, the Bucs wouldn't have scored a touchdown.
At some point, don't you have to ask if some of that is coaching?
I know, I know. Morris has had only 13 games in his job, and the franchise stripped itself of veterans, and his quarterback is a rookie, and the team mistakenly hired Phineas and Ferb as his coordinators, and the problems around here didn't start with his tenure. I get all of that. And frankly, I like Morris as much as anyone.
However, the question here isn't about fairness to Morris. It's about the future of the team. And what, exactly, have you seen that suggests that Morris is the coach to lead the team out of this muck?
Around here, the problems still outweigh the progress. Take the offense. Isn't the offensive line supposed to be better than this? Aren't the backs fairly competent? Aren't Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow fairly respected receivers?
Why then have the Bucs been held without a touchdown the last two weeks?
And when, exactly, did Josh Freeman turn into Byron Leftwich?
It is true the defense has played better since Morris assumed the defensive coordinator's duties. Of course, part of that success might be that the Bucs have played (and lost to) the likes of New York's Kellen Clemens, Carolina's Matt Moore, Miami's Chad Henne and Atlanta's Chris Redman. You know, the future UFL all-stars.
Ask yourself: Did Game 13 look any better to you than Game 1? Was the loss to the Jets any less one-sided than the loss to the Giants? Has there been improvement, and has there been enough?
While you are sorting through those questions, here's another. How bad was Friday's practice?
In the Bucs' latest loss, that might have been the most bizarre statement of them all. Morris was two sentences into his post-game comments, and the questions had not yet begun, and he started talking about how flat Friday's practice was.
"Those are the results you get when you don't practice hard every day," Morris said. "I don't think it was a discipline issue with the flat practice. I think it was a get-going issue. It was hard to get going that day. It was a little gloomy. We have to get better in Friday practices."
Here's a question: How much of Don Shula's success was because his team practiced like maniacs during its TGIF scrimmages? Hey, if Friday's practices were that important, the NFL would put them on pay per view. Maybe just before Ugly Betty. (Ugly Buccie?)
So what happens from here?
Can Morris survive 1-15? Considering the dwindling ticket sales, the Glazers may have no choice but to make a coaching change for someone with more pages in his resume. And it's hard to suggest a guy should get a second season if he can't get a second victory.
How about 2-14? Or 3-13? What does Morris have to do to merit a sequel? Or did the Glazers decide on a multiyear term when Morris was hired?
"When I start worrying about that, I probably shouldn't be in this position," Morris said. "That's not what we do. That's not our job. As position coach, head coach, you go out there and do your job every day and let people tell you what you're going to do at the end of the season. That's not my concern."
No, it isn't. Getting his team ready for Friday is.
Oh, and eventually, Sunday.