TAMPA — Four weeks into the season, and the offense is pretty ordinary. You wouldn’t have guessed it coming into Sunday night, but the defense is suddenly middling, too.
The game plans are routine, the special teams are adequate, the results are commonplace. Yup, all in all, this is what an average football team looks like.
And that might be the most remarkable thing about these Bucs.
In a locker room that is home to stars, record-holders, champions and one living legend, the Bucs have bathed themselves in mediocrity. They are the poster children for Any Given Sunday.
Your heart tells you this is a team of wondrous potential, but the standings insist the Bucs are just one of 13 teams that have meandered to a 2-2 start to the season.
“Nobody is looking at the names on the backs of our jerseys,” head coach Todd Bowles said. “We’ve just got to go out there and grind.”
The latest setback was a 41-31 loss to the Chiefs that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. The Bucs were losing 46 seconds into the game, and everything else was just details.
If you include the loss to Green Bay last week, Tampa Bay has now trailed in 107 of the last 108 minutes of football.
Bowles stood in the middle of the locker room after Sunday’s loss and told the players the fault was his, but there are too many millionaires with too many Pro Bowls on their resumes for that to be the only answer.
“It is tough,” right tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “(Bowles) he was pretty down, and he was saying this was on him. Mike Evans stood up and said, ‘No, it’s on us.’ Obviously, it’s on us as players. We had to come out and execute what we went through all week. Come out here and give it our best.
“You know, this sucks. This one stings. It stings for everybody.”
You could blame rookie Rachaad White for fumbling the opening kickoff and giving Kansas City a quick and easy early touchdown, but the Bucs had plenty of chances to get back in the game.
The truth is the defense could not stop the Chiefs on third down and the offense could not hold on to the ball long enough in the first half to get any sort of reset.
“That’s not us, that’s not our identity,” said defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches. “It’s hard to accept what just happened.”
So much for the new-look offense that was supposedly taking the pressure off Tom Brady. By the time they had run seven offensive plays, the Bucs were already morphing into a flag football team. They attempted 27 consecutive passes from the end of the first quarter into the third quarter.
Stay updated on the Buccaneers
Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Now, some of that was necessity. They were already way behind and needed to close the gap quickly. But it was also a complete lack of faith in the running game. Leonard Fournette’s first three carries netted minus-3 yards of offense.
And, frankly, it wasn’t a huge surprise.
After rushing for 152 yards in the season opener against Dallas, the Bucs have had an increasingly difficult time running the ball. They gained 72 against New Orleans and 34 against Green Bay last week.
Against the Chiefs, they gained a grand total of 3 yards on the ground.
“They played their best, and we didn’t play so good,” receiver Mike Evans. “We had a great week of practice, we’re starting to get healthy, and they just beat us.”
If you’re feeling charitable, you could say the Bucs have had more injuries than the average NFL team. They’ve played with three left tackles, with a depleted receiving corps and they lost safety Logan Ryan to a foot injury early in Sunday’s game.
You might also point out they had the hardest four-week stretch to the start the season of any team in the NFL. They faced the Chiefs, Cowboys and Packers, and all three teams are off to 3-1 starts. Throw in a road game against division rival New Orleans, and that’s a pretty formidable test.
“We knew that in the preseason, we knew that during (organized team activities), so we should have been ready for those things,” said Nunez-Roches. “Regardless of schedule or injuries or whatever else is going on, it’s always the ‘next man up.’ Talent is not the issue in here. It’s all about execution at this point.”
They don’t grade on a curve in the NFL. They don’t give extra credit for effort, circumstances or hurdles. You are, famously, what your record says you are.
And, this morning, the record says the Bucs are an average NFL team.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.