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Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Bucs just ruined another fine Sunday afternoon

John Romano: Expectations were high with new coach Bruce Arians in charge, but Tampa Bay blundered its way to a 31-17 loss to San Francisco.
This is pretty much all you need to know about Sunday's 31-17 loss to San Francisco. This is 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) heading into the endzone with the second interception returned for a touchdown against Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sep. 9
Updated Sep. 9

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.

PHOTO GALLERY: The Bucs season opener in pictures

As an omen.

A portent.

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.

Let’s see:

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 Follow @romano_tbtimes.


  1. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (26) is part of a young core of defensive backs the Bucs hope will solve their long-running pass defense problems. MONICA HERNDON  |  Times
    John Romano: Could Sean Murphy-Bunting and the young Bucs finally be the answer?
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon III Hargreaves kneels in the end zone after a Nov. 13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He was cut by the Bucs and picked up by the Texans. JOHN FROSCHAUER  |  AP
    A day after the Bucs release the former first-round pick, he finds a home.
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ryan Smith, seen here celebrating after breaking up a pass during a preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, was dismayed that fellow cornerback Vernon Hargreaves was released by the Bucs. MONICA HERNDON  |  Times
    The reaction to the release of the former 2016 first-round pick ranged from dismay to acceptance.
  4. Bucs punter Bradley Pinion (8) and his wife, launched their "Punts for Pups" program in partnership with the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center where they'll sponsor a dog for every punt he kicks within the 20-yard line. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Buccaneers punter and his wife will cover the fees of adopting a dog at the shelter every time he drops a punt inside the 20.
  5. Nearly 40 high school teams, including Durant and Sickles, and more than 1,000 girls participated in the Bucs inaugural flag football tournament earlier this year. Now the team has created an academic scholarship fund for girls who play.
    The team’s foundation has created a national scholarship fund for girls who play football.
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (27) enters the field at Raymond James Stadium before the start of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, November 10, 2019, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Last week’s game at Raymond James was the lowest-attended Bucs game in the stadium’s history. What’s your take on dwindling attendance?
  7. Vernon Hargreaves was the Bucs' first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft. On Tuesday, the Bucs released him. ALLIE GOULDING  |  Times
    Rick Stroud: He didn’t hustle and they didn’t want to be hustled
  8. Linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) and the Houston Texans will play the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 21. ERIC CHRISTIAN SMITH  |  AP
    The league previously left the game’s date and time undetermined.
  9. Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett runs past Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III in a game earlier this month. Before being released by the team Tuesday, Hargreaves produced one interception, four passes defensed and 39 tackles in nine games. SCOTT EKLUND  |  AP
    With the team releasing Vernon Hargreaves, only one of the seven players selected by Tampa Bay remains on the current roster
  10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon III Hargreaves (28) on the field during warmups before the Bucs game against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Tampa, FL. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Tampa Bay selected the former Florida Gators and Wharton High star with the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.