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Theories abound for Tampa Bay Buccaneers' struggles

Coach Raheem Morris cites the schedule, which includes the Lions, Bears, 49ers, Packers and Texans, for the Bucs’ troubles.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Coach Raheem Morris cites the schedule, which includes the Lions, Bears, 49ers, Packers and Texans, for the Bucs’ troubles.

"They had a little success last year, and they got a little full of themselves in the offseason."

"I look at the personalities (Josh Freeman) has to deal with — Kellen Winslow, Mike Williams, LeGarrette Blount. He's looking at all this mess saying, 'Really?' "

"When you have players who have some character flaws in the locker room, there's no steady force. When you're winning, it's okay. When you hit tough times, they take over. And when you lose, it's magnified."

ESPN analyst and Former Jets and Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, who gave Bucs coach Raheem Morris his start in the NFL

Quarterback Josh Freeman plays tighter than the curls in his hair.

Last season's 10-6 record was the result of a bake sale schedule: a cupcake here, a cream puff there.

The team is so undisciplined under third-year coach Raheem Morris, it has invented its own version of flag football.

Those are just a few of the many theories put forth last week after the Bucs were shelled at home by the Texans, 39-7, their third straight loss and fourth in five games after a 3-1 start.

"I wish it were that simple. It's too complex," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Who says there's really anything wrong other than us getting beat or not winning?

"There's never just one reason why you win, and there's certainly not one reason why you lose."

Winning won't get easier today at Lambeau Field, where the Bucs face the defending Super Bowl champion Packers, who have kicked every team in the dairy air.

Why have the Bucs had so much trouble finding a silver lining in this mushroom cloud? Because there are no easy answers

Morris, citing a lack of effort from his players after Sunday's thrashing, increased the intensity of practice by putting his players in pads two days last week. Too little, too late, according to NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi, who suggested Morris lacked leadership and accountability.

ESPN analyst and former Jets and Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, who gave Morris his start in the NFL with a minority coaching internship in New York, said Bucs players are "undisciplined" and banked too much on last season's success.

And former Tampa Bay Pro Bowl safety John Lynch, part of Fox's broadcast team for two Bucs games, believes Morris even forecasted the collapse.

"It's almost like Raheem has been trying to say this in code; that maybe people thought they were better than they actually are, and he knew that," Lynch said. "I know I had that sense being around him."

So what's really going on with the Bucs? Some theories.

2010 was a mirage

Morris might have inadvertently buttressed this argument last week when he attributed his team's losing streak to having the fourth-toughest schedule in the league.

"They had a little success last year, and they got a little full of themselves in the offseason," Edwards said. "They earned some respect.

"In the past, teams just figured they were young and they would fold. And the quarterback kept bringing them back. When you look at it, the quarterback brought them back in the fourth quarter of four games. That's the difference between 10-6 and 6-10, which is about where they are now."

The Bucs beat one team with a winning record in 2010 — the Saints in the final week of the season. (And the Saints, already in the playoffs, did not use their starters for the whole game.) This season, the Bucs' opponents are a combined 48-37.

"There's no doubt," Morris said, "you can look at the (teams) we've lost to."

Freeman has regressed

Statistically, it's undeniable. In his third season, Freeman has nine touchdown and 13 interceptions (compared with 25 and six, respectively, last season), and his quarterback rating of 72.6 is 29th in the league.

But players such as receiver Mike Williams (one touchdown catch after 11 a season ago), tight end Kellen Winslow (9.1 yards per catch after 11.1 a season ago) and LeGarrette Blount (28th in the league with 434 rushing yards after 1,007 a season ago; he has just one 100-yard game) have not performed to expectations either.

"I feel a little for (Freeman) because he's a good player," Edwards said. "I look at the personalities he has to deal with — Kellen Winslow, Mike Williams, LeGarrette Blount. He's looking at all this mess saying, 'Really?' "

Lynch said Freeman should be a reason the Bucs avoid losing streaks.

"I believe he is a special player," he said. "They should not be as inconsistent as they are. That usually masks other things. What bothers you is how inconsistent there are. When they play good teams, they're getting blown out."

No leader on defense

Let's exclude Barber, who leads by example but is not a vocal guy.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster might grow into that role, but he's a rookie.

"Ideally, you'd like for it to be a linebacker," Morris said.

Quincy Black is a captain and signed a $29 million extension during the offseason, but he hasn't made enough plays.

"Right now, you'd have to say … you're lacking somebody saying, 'Huddle up! Let's go get it!' " Morris said. "That's a fair assessment. But I can see Mason growing into that very quickly."

Lynch said that needs to happen immediately: "I would tell him, 'You're on a young team. Don't wait. Be that guy now.' "

Character issues

Edwards said he was shocked the Bucs claimed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, basically chased out of town by Washington and New England, off waivers during the week before the Texans loss.

He was even more aghast when Freeman called him a "mentor" last week.

"Why bring in a guy who doesn't like football?" Edwards said. "You want that guy influencing your young football team?

"I see that Raheem got on them for not giving effort. But when you have players who have some character flaws in the locker room, there's no steady force. When you're winning, it's okay. When you hit tough times, they take over. And when you lose, it's magnified."

The Bucs have committed 74 penalties in nine games (fourth most in the league) this season. And, according to Barber, effort should never be questioned on a professional team.

"You should never have to coach effort — ever," Barber said. "I discount that being a factor for a loss. If guys don't want to play, they're not going to be playing. Effort speaks for itself. If you're talking about effort, you're talking about a team that needs to be completely bent over and whipped with a cane.

"My message, really, was establish your standards and make sure you're living to them."

Lynch summarized the Bucs' predicament.

"It's an important stretch for this organization," he said.

"Because it could go into disarray."

Theories abound for Tampa Bay Buccaneers' struggles 11/18/11 [Last modified: Sunday, November 20, 2011 12:38pm]

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