NEW ORLEANS — The Bucs knew they still had a lot of problems to fix entering Sunday's game against New Orleans: a leaky secondary, a patchwork offensive line and finding a way to pump the brakes on a three-game losing skid.
But a 41-0 thrashing at the Superdome uncovered another hard truth: Their quarterback was as wobbly as a midnight reveler on Bourbon Street.
Josh Freeman played one of the worst games of his four-year career, throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble.
And the Saints, who entered allowing a league-high 436.9 yards per game, recorded their first shutout in almost 17 years while holding rookie Doug Martin to 16 yards on nine carries.
"This is unacceptable," said Bucs coach Greg Schiano, whose team had 386 yards of offense (76 on the final drive). "I know that. It's my name, the organization's name. We don't do that, so we've got to get it right."
By losing their fourth game in a row, the Bucs (6-8) blew any chance of finishing above .500 in Schiano's first season and their faint playoff hopes have all but slipped down the American Standard.
A week after being shut out in the first half by an Eagles defense that had given up the seventh-most points in the league, the Bucs fell behind 24-0 to a defense that had given up the third-most.
By then, Freeman was 7-of-16 for 85 yards with two interceptions — at the New Orleans 20 and New Orleans 26. He finished 26-of-47 for 279 yards. His 37.5 passer rating was the fourth lowest of his career. The three lowest came during his rookie season.
While it was obvious the Bucs receivers didn't always work off the same page of the playbook as their quarterback, Freeman was asked how much blame he should shoulder for the four-game losing streak.
"I'm an offensive captain. I'm the quarterback of the team," he said. "You've got to take it all."
Of course, the defense also was helpless against Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who passed for 307 yards and four touchdowns.
The frustration boiled over into a sideline altercation between linebacker Adam Hayward and defensive front-seven coach Bryan Cox that forced teammates to separate them.
"I'm not happy about it," Schiano said. "But I do know it's been resolved."
Unfortunately for Schiano, his team didn't show that much fight on the field.
Freeman, who failed to complete at least 50 percent of his passes for the third consecutive game and fourth time this season, had two chances during the first half to help the Bucs keep it close.
Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, Freeman drove the Bucs to the New Orleans 20. But on second and 10, his pass was a little behind tight end Dallas Clark, and cornerback Jabari Greer recorded the first of his two interceptions.
Then down 10-0 early in the second quarter, the Bucs got a 39-yard punt return from Roscoe Parrish coupled with a Saints holding penalty that set them up at the New Orleans 33.
Martin ran for 11 yards on the first play of the series. But he lost 4 on the next play, and then came mistakes on the next two. On second and 14, Freeman overthrew an open Mike Williams in the end zone. Then Freeman threw a pass right to safety Rafael Bush.
Freeman said because he saw a blitz, he expected receiver Vincent Jackson to cut inside. But Jackson kept streaking upfield.
"We're not operating efficiently, and when you have before and now you're not, something has to be unraveled," Schiano said. "It's never as simple as, 'Let's change that and then we're all set.' We've got to unpeel the onion here and figure out what the issues are."
Clark, also the intended receiver on Freeman's third interception, said there's plenty of blame to go around.
"It's definitely not just one person," Clark said. "Unfortunately in this league, the quarterback and head coach, those guys are always the first ones to be thrown under the bus. But I'll be the first one to say it's me. It's everyone."
Schiano was quick to point the finger at himself for the Bucs being held scoreless for the first time since 27-0 against the Giants on Sept. 27, 2009.
"This is the guy it starts with and ends with," Schiano said, pointing to himself. "I didn't get this team ready to go, for whatever that reason is.
"Up until this point, there have been some tough losses, but they were one-score losses. (Sunday) was a different animal, and it will be addressed."
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.