Gary Shelton: Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason loss to Tennessee Titans stings

Josh Freeman’s pass in the first quarter is too high for Mike Williams, who is immediately met by Titans linebacker Colin McCarthy, a former Clearwater Central Catholic standout. Freeman was 4-of-10 for 21 yards with a 2-yard TD to Williams.
Josh Freeman’s pass in the first quarter is too high for Mike Williams, who is immediately met by Titans linebacker Colin McCarthy, a former Clearwater Central Catholic standout. Freeman was 4-of-10 for 21 yards with a 2-yard TD to Williams.
Published Aug. 18, 2012


Repeat this slowly. Maybe it will help.

It doesn't matter.

Say it again and again, and after that, you can say it one more time. It was just a preseason game, right? Why, it was a glorified practice, an easily forgettable rehearsal on a summer evening.

Nothing to worry about here, not the cave-in on the offensive line or the turnovers or the missed tackles. The disappointments didn't count and the shortcomings were a mere inconvenience.

Except for this: Ugly always stings. Even in the preseason.

The Bucs didn't exactly wow anybody in their first home (and homely) game Friday under new coach Greg Schiano. In a 30-7 flogging by Tennessee, the offense didn't dazzle and the defense didn't punish and the new toys didn't sparkle and the old ones didn't shine and, in the end, the blackout wasn't such a bad thing for Tampa Bay.

Also, ouch.

All in all, it was a lousy way for a new regime to say hello to the local crowd. After last week's convincing victory over the Dolphins in Miami, the hope was the Bucs would march into Raymond James Stadium and show everyone how spiffy and sharp the team had become.

Instead, the Titans spent most of the night reminding the Bucs just how much work there is to do between now and the season opener. The word "considerable" comes to mind.

Granted, turning around a franchise that had lost its way so badly a year ago was never going to be as easy as flipping a switch. Everyone should have known that. But after an impressive offseason, you would have expected better than this, wouldn't you? Better question: Wouldn't Schiano?

"Sloppy," was the way Schiano described it. The turnovers bothered him. The lack of attacking the line bothered him. The run defense bothered him.

"We didn't coach well enough, and we didn't play well enough," Schiano said. "Just not a good effort."

The Bucs lost a preseason game? Who cares? That's not the point here. The point is the Bucs played poorly in so many areas where they are supposed to be improved. Preseason games aren't supposed to give you much, but a promise here and there shouldn't be this hard.

Start with the offensive line, which collapsed from the Titans' pressure. You were left with two questions: One: What happened? Two: Can someone please check to see how Donald Penn is feeling?

From the first snap, quarterback Josh Freeman was harassed. Freeman wasn't terrible, but he wasn't terrific, either. He hit only 4 of 10 passes for only 21 yards. He did hit Mike Williams on a 2-yard touchdown pass and threw a nice fastball to Vincent Jackson for 8 yards on third and 6, but overall, he looked more endangered than dangerous.

"I do know that the quarterback took too many hits," Schiano said. "You can't do that. You're not going to win in this league, and you're not going to have your quarterback very long, if that happens."

You might have hoped for more out of Freeman, too, considering the new weapons in his huddle. It would have been nice to have seen a few more hints that he was ready to repeat his 2010 season, not his 2011 season.

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What else was on your checklist? The running game? The Bucs' running backs combined for 17 yards in the first quarter, another 17 in the second quarter. The competition between Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount was not exactly a stampede. (Blount left the game in the second quarter with a groin injury.)

The run defense? The tackling wasn't much to brag about, either. The Titans rolled up 123 yards in the first half and averaged 7.7 yards per carry. Chris Johnson averaged 4.6 yards and scored twice. Yeah, everyone knows Johnson wants to race Usain Bolt, but who knew he was going to practice against the Bucs?

The pass defense? That was pretty good, actually. For one thing, safety Ahmad Black set up the Bucs' touchdown with an interception. For another thing, the Bucs may have ripped the Titans' starting quarterback position out of Jake Locker's hands. Locker ended up with a rating of 7.0. Quarterbacks, of course, are always after sevens, but that's points, not rating.

Overall? The Bucs need to block better, and they need to tackle better, and they need to cut down on the turnovers. They need to show more flash, and more imagination, and more aggression. They need to make more plays.

To sum it up, they need to be better than this.

After all, it won't be preseason for very much longer.