TAMPA — In coming weeks, this Bucs' death slide will disguise itself at times in comebacks against complacent defenses, but we've passed the end of the beginning and are about to start at the beginning of the end.
In other words, the good stuff.
There is no way out, not for the Bucs, not for their flag football defense, not for Jameis Winston, not for head coach Dirk Koetter and GM Jason Licht.
The Bucs are 3-5 at the halfway point, and if they're 6-10 at the conclusion, that's about right.
The original sin was this franchise thinking that 6-10 was all wrong.
For that, I blame the usual suspects:
The Cleveland Browns.
You heard me. As far as I'm concerned, the squeaker win over the Browns was the Bucs' biggest loss of the season. It deluded them, again, into thinking that they were close, or at least close enough for Licht to sit on his hands, or whatever else he sits on, through the NFL trade deadline.
That's enough reason for him to get the boot right there.
This is worse than when he moved up to draft Roberto Aguayo.
"All we need is a kicker."
On paper, the rest of the Bucs schedule looks workable — until you start working it. The teams left have a combined record of 32-33.
The Bucs can beat Washington this week, as 5-3 Washington's offensive line is beat up and the defense can't stop the pass.
Only the Bucs can't stop anything.
The Bucs can win at the 1-7 Giants — until someone hands Saquon Barkley the ball. Bucs defenders looked like clown boxers as they tried to run down zig-zagging Carolina receiver Curtis Samuel on his way to the end zone.
Yes, the Bucs can beat the 2-7 49ers here. They can also lose to their third-string quarterback, to a team with less talent.
Don't we know anything about Bucs history? You can play that game of looking at the schedule and seeing possible wins. But just know that every time you do, there's an NFL team looking at its date with the Bucs saying the same thing.
Did you watch any games Sunday? I saw teams that are years ahead of the Bucs in talent, systems, schemes, development, in-game coaching and all the other elements it takes to win. The Bucs are not in that league.
So, why act like they are?
I blame the Browns.
That win put bubbles in people's brains, including survival-mode Koetter and Licht. The Bucs should have been big sellers at trade deadline.
What was the upshot from Sunday other than more reps for Carlton Davis, bless his soul? What did the Bucs learn from swallowing the Fitz bait? They still can't run it, still can't cover, still can't tackle. They lost by 14, could have been 30. Thanks for playing.
Licht was given an extension to look out for the long-term interest of the team and he didn't do it.
Yes, you can say Fitz gives them the best chance. He probably does. Big deal? You're going to pull off a few miracle-baby FitzWins to eke out a 6-10, 7-9 season instead of 5-11? What does that do?
This was such a key pivot point for the Bucs to say we're smart enough to know we're not going anywhere this year, we need to do what's best for the long run. DeSean Jackson plays no role in your future. Brent Grimes plays no role in your future. Fitz plays no role in your future. Again, thanks for playing.
The Bucs failed at their No. 1 job — Licht's No. 1 job. The task is to point your team at the Super Bowl, if not today, then tomorrow, no matter what it takes. Instead the Bucs are pointed toward a final two months of irrelevance, followed by an offseason scrambling around to find a quarterback. If you're not going to play Winston now, certainly you're not going to play him next year, are you?
Well, are you?
See you at the guillotine.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.