For the past few years, Mondays in Tampa Bay have been tough. You're virtually guaranteed two things as you begin your work week: interminable traffic on the Howard Frankland and radio hosts dissecting the disappointment of yet another Buccaneers loss.
But for many fans, football is a religion, and as a new weekend nears, the fog of frustration clears. By the time you grab your popcorn and take your seat Sunday afternoon, you've forgiven past performances. You're a believer again. You want to witness victory, but these days you'll settle for feeling entertained for at least 90 minutes.
But time and again, you feel shame and regret. It's the same story, just with different characters. It's like watching an Adam Sandler movie. You might laugh once or twice, but in the end you ask yourself: Why did I do that? What was I thinking? Why didn't I just save myself the time and soak my wallet in gasoline and light it on fire?
If you were honest with yourself before this season started, you realized that this Buccaneers team was one that was still in transition. Yes, there are teams that bounce back from a miserable season and reach the playoffs the next, but you don't build a long-term winner in one offseason. So, you weren't expecting perfection — not from a rookie quarterback and the new offensive linemen tasked with protecting him — but you were expecting improvement, something that would suggest that the team you invest in — emotionally and financially — eventually will follow Paul "Wrecking" Crewe's path to redemption.
What you got in Sunday's 37-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers was a repackaged version of Bucs football that you've seen week in, week out since Jon Gruden was fired. If Sandler movies can be reduced to a Hollywood studio spending tens of millions of dollars on a film full of insufferable yelling, fart jokes and kicks to the groin, Bucs games can be reduced to the Glazers spending tens of millions on a team known for sloppiness, turnovers and kicks outside of goal posts.
Even opponents are anticipating the script. Panthers cornerback Josh Norman was so confident that he'd pick off Jameis Winston that, according to David Newton of ESPN.com, he asked former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks — a fines appeals officer — before the game whether he'd be penalized for a celebration in which he pretended to ride the football like a horse.
Even though Norman said Brooks said the display would be legal, referees flagged him for using the ball as a prop.
Next time, Norman might want to consult golf legend Shooter McGavin for permissible showboating material.
On the interception, it looked as though Winston thought the Panthers were playing three-deep zone coverage (in which the cornerbacks and a safety would each be responsible for covering one-third of the field), Fox analyst Ronde Barber said. Before the snap, the Panthers kept one safety deep over the middle and brought the other up, but he retreated after the snap.
Norman initially dropped back to cover Vincent Jackson like a cornerback playing Cover 3 technique. But Norman released him and sank to jump the throw underneath to Brandon Myers. And in an instant, he was in the end zone, and the Panthers were up 10-0 less than five minutes into the game.
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Before the pick, the Bucs had a 34.2 percent chance of winning, according to Pro Football Reference. After the extra point, their win probability fell 18 percentage points.
Winston said after the game that he has to take better care of the football.
"It's not like I got baited or something," he said. "I just threw it straight to him. Bad decision."
Bad decision, indeed. Like putting Jack and Jill in your Netflix queue.
Despite three turnovers and a missed closer-than-an-extra-point field goal seconds before the end of the first half, the Bucs began the second half down just 17-10. When Tim Jennings recovered Cam Newton's botched handoff to Jonathan Stewart on the Panthers' first play, things suddenly didn't look so bad for the Bucs. Call it their Spanglish moment.
A Doug Martin run and then catch took Tampa Bay into the red zone, but defensive end Ryan Delaire — an undrafted free agent who spent the preseason with the Bucs — beat right tackle Gosder Cherilus with a spin move to sack Winston. Instead of a 35-yard field goal attempt, Kyle Brindza tried a 43-yarder, which he hooked left for his second miss of the game and fifth in two games.
The Bucs almost took the ball away from the Panthers again when on the next play safety Chris Conte popped the ball out from under Stewart's arm. But as is often the case for bad teams, the ball bounced the opponent's way, conveniently landing in the hands of tight end Ed Dickson, who took it 57 yards for a backbreaking touchdown. With the Panthers up 24-10 and the Bucs' win probability down to 4.6 percent, you might have started considering other viewing options. Just a click away: Karate Kid II on Ion or — worse — The Longest Yard on TNT. Why someone would do that, I don't know, but we live in a world where Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo exists.
With the Bucs on the ropes after the Dickson fumble return, the Panthers sent five defenders after Winston on a third-and-8. As safety Roman Harper and cornerback Bene Benwikere closed in, Winston targeted Jackson on an in route but threw behind him. There to make the easy interception was No. 24. Again.
There's a good chance the sight of Norman returning a second interception left some fans confused and asking questions they hadn't asked since they saw the trailer for Grown Ups 2. SERIOUSLY? WHO ASKED FOR THIS?! AND WHY, WHY, WHY DOES IT KEEP HAPPENING?!?!
It wasn't surprising that Winston and the Bucs struggled Sunday against the Panthers. Mistakes are part of development. What we learned, however, is that the Bucs aren't nearly as far along as fans had hoped and that more tough Mondays lie ahead.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.