TAMPA — Let's give it up to the Bucs for not giving up.
Nobody loves a quitter, and the Bucs have more than enough reasons to have adopted a devil-may-care attitude about this season a long, long time ago.
The quarterback has been hurt. The ball has bounced the wrong way for them. Referees keep dropping the yellow flag. But the Bucs never have waved the white one.
No, sir. They've impressively pressed on, which might be the best reason the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, has for retaining coach Dirk Koetter.
Six out of the Bucs' past seven games have been decided by one score. The past three losses have been by three points or fewer, and that has happened only one other time in club history, to start the 1991 season. Tampa Bay is 1-5 in those one-score games.
"Let's make one thing perfectly clear," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "These guys have played their (butts) off in terms of going out and giving the effort that you need to win. Unfortunately, there's been a handful of plays that have not allowed us to do that, and we've got to find a way to make those plays or coach those guys better.
"It's unfortunate in terms of how this league is, in terms of three or four weeks still to go in the season, and they're talking about this and they're talking about that. … You don't listen to it because it's just talk. … We've got to prepare each and every week. No matter what's being said outside the building, it's what we do inside the building. And these guys have played their tails off, and I'm not going to have anybody say anything different to this group of guys. … We haven't won, but they've played hard.''
Then again, effort is the minimal requirement for a professional athlete. Quitting is easy, unless you're talking about tobacco or alcohol.
So though it's hard to imagine an NFL player actually quitting during a game, they do make business decisions. When Raheem Morris lost his last 10 games before being fired as the Bucs' coach after the 2011 season, the average score was 35-17. Not everybody quit, but some decided not to stick their face in the fan, so to speak, and risk injury.
As former Eagles running back Ricky Watters once said, "For who? For what?"
Not these Bucs. They are still fighting — not just the opponent, but sometimes each other, as they did Sunday at Carolina when Kwon Alexander and a few other players confronted defensive tackle Chris Baker in the locker room after the game.
Once in a while, giving up is the best thing to do. Take the game Lovie Smith coached for the Bucs against the Saints in the 2014 season finale at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs took a 13-point lead as Drew Brees threw three interceptions. Tampa Bay was flirting with losing the No. 1 overall draft pick with a win.
So Smith emptied his bench, and the Bucs lost 23-20 but won the right to select quarterback Jameis Winston.
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The E for effort is not as important as the W's. A few weeks ago, after a loss to the Falcons on Monday Night Football, Winston gave a heartfelt endorsement of Koetter.
"We love our head coach,'' Winston said. "Our head coach sets our morals, and his main thing is compete. And you can see it through every one of those guys. Every time he steps up in the meeting and he puts the slide show of what is our objective — passion, competitiveness, mental toughness —he's instilled that in us. Some of the guys have it, but you've got to coach it.
"I just hate that the results of our play, our season. Quite frankly, it's on the players. It's on us. We've got to play. Coaches just coach.''
Sam Wyche used to say you can have a bad record but a good season. What he meant by that is anyone's guess, but it would seem that he was suggesting that everyone gave it all they had all the time.
"We never got beat because of a lack of effort,'' Koetter said. "Fantastic effort. Hats off to our guys for how they've hung in there and how they've competed. Ultimately, we're judged on wins and losses. We all understand that, but as far as working at it, competing on game day and giving us what they have, fantastic.''
Say this for Koetter. He has lost games. He has never lost his team.
vs. Saints, 4:25 Sunday, Raymond James Stadium
TV/radio: Fox; 97.9-FM
Line/OU: Saints by 7; 50