TAMPA — The sophisticated football fan will see this for what it was.
The first steps of a season-long journey that will cross months, time zones, and an ocean. It was one loss, nothing more. You pick up the pieces and plan for better days.
The long-suffering Buccaneers fan will see this 31-17 season-opening loss to San Francisco in a slightly different way.
As an omen.
A validation of every fantasy-killing, Sunday-wrecking, soul-diminishing anxiety this franchise has nurtured for too many years.
Good gosh, this is what we’ve been waiting for since January? This is what the new regime has wrought? This is the advice Quarterback Whisperer Bruce Arians has been giving Jameis Winston?
Because the Bucs didn’t just lose a football game, they gave it away. They gift-wrapped it in the first half, and when that wasn’t enough, Winston air-mailed it in the second half.
Three interceptions, two touchdowns negated by penalties, three fumbles, a blocked punt and no encore from Tim McGraw’s opening concert.
Is it fair to say the Bucs beat themselves?”
“You saw the game, right,’’ guard Alex Cappa said. “I think you can answer that yourself.’’
He’s right. The problem is context. We are drowning in it.
For a dozen years, this franchise has majored in heartache. With minors in heartburn and headaches. And every three years or so, the owners take a sledgehammer to the old business model.
A new regime comes in, and the community gets excited about different philosophies, different faces and a different energy. That’s what Arians was supposed to do.
He is the quarterback guru who was going to take Winston to a new maturity, and he was going to obliterate the losing attitude with as many compound expletives as necessary.
And then Sunday happened against the 49ers.
“We’ve got to stop beating ourselves,’’ said tackle Demar Dotson. “If we do a better job of not beating ourselves, we might start beating other people.’’
All of this might explain why ownership felt it necessary to begin the season with a concert by McGraw two hours before the game. It was a peace offering. A way to invite fans back to Raymond James Stadium. And even that had mixed results.
The announced attendance on Sunday was 55,976, which was only slightly higher than last year’s average attendance. And last year’s average attendance was Tampa Bay’s worse since the recession-ravaged season of 2010.
In other words, fans might be growing tired of promises.
And they had a right to expect more on Sunday. Let’s not forget the 49ers have been the West Coast version of the Bucs in recent years. They’ve changed coaches, changed quarterbacks and had four consecutive seasons with 10 losses or more.
For crying out loud, they had not won a game in the Eastern Time Zone in five years.
“We can’t beat ourselves,’’ said linebacker Devin White. “We’ve got to be disciplined.’’
Are you sensing a common thread here?
Oh, maybe we’re being too harsh. That’s one of the problems with a season opener. You’ve waited so long, and put so much hope into its arrival, you tend to overstate its significance. So try not to extrapolate too much from this mess.
Winston will be sharper over 16 games.
The offense will have better days.
And, despite his opening game average, Dotson will not wipe out 32 touchdowns with penalties.
It’s just that every step forward seems to lead to two interceptions returned backward.
It’s true, the Bucs have time to fix this mess. And they have the talent to get it done.
Whether Tampa Bay fans have the faith to wait it out is another story.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.