TAMPA — This isn't supposed to be happening. This isn't where the Bucs are supposed to be.
At the quarter pole of the NFL season, the Bucs feel more than a quarter of the way underwater. They are 1-3 and in last place in the NFC South. A 1-4 start is lurking with a Monday night date at defending NFC champion Carolina.
There was so much hope that this could finally be the year the Bucs ended a string of losing seasons that had reached five. There was so much optimism that this could finally be the year the Bucs ended a string of seasons without making the playoffs that had reached eight.
But just a month into the season, it feels like all the optimistic predictions must be revised and the expectations must be lowered.
After a season-opening victory at Atlanta — a game in which second-year quarterback Jameis Winston threw for four touchdowns and nearly 300 yards — the Bucs were among the NFL's chic teams. They were among those that big shots on ESPN were calling a sleeper team, a team to watch. Winston was on Dan Patrick's radio show. Peter King featured Tampa Bay in his Monday Morning Quarterback website.
Now here we are, three weeks after that game, and the Bucs' ship is a mess.
What the heck happened?
Since the opener, not much has gone right for Tampa Bay. That includes three losses, two of which weren't even close.
Winston has thrown four touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Running back Doug Martin has gotten hurt. Receiver Vincent Jackson has been invisible. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been arrested and released. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has gotten hurt.
Coach Dirk Koetter has said some things that have been brutally honest, extremely critical, yet absolutely true about his team.
He said something is missing in the Bucs' culture. Yes, there is.
He doubted that his offense Sunday against the Broncos was good enough to convert a fourth and 7. It probably couldn't have.
He lamented how Winston has not gotten past his penchant for turning over the ball. Winston surely hasn't.
He even called his team unprofessional for how it ended Sunday's game, pushing and shoving after a game-ending kneel-down play by the Broncos. Right again. It was unprofessional.
It's never too late to turn around a season. And maybe we can't judge the rest of the season based on a mere four games.
But the first four games have revealed major concerns, trends that are often difficult to buck.
Tampa Bay's turnover differential is minus-9. Only the 1-3 Jets are worse at minus-11. Same with giveaways. Only the Jets' 13 are worse than the Bucs' 11.
Tampa Bay is giving up an average 32 points a game. Only 1-3 New Orleans is giving up more and only by a mere half-point.
Meantime, the Bucs are 25th in points, averaging only 19.5 per game.
Hmm, so let's see. They are giving up a bunch of points and not scoring a whole lot of points. That pretty much adds up to a bad quarter of a football season that suggests more pessimism than optimism.
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Then again, it took only a quarter of the season for the league to go off the rails.
I mean, before the season, did you see the Vikings going 4-0 with Teddy Bridgewater and without Adrian Peterson?
Did you see the Broncos starting 4-0 without a proven quarterback?
Did you see the Cowboys going 3-1 without Tony Romo and the Patriots going 3-1 without Tom Brady and partly with Jacoby Brissett?
Did you see the Falcons going 3-0 after losing the opener the way they did to the Bucs?
Or how about the other way?
The Panthers are 1-3. The Cardinals are 1-3. Andrew Luck and the Colts are 1-3.
You never know what the league will give you. You never know what you're going to get. You never know what's going to happen next.
The unexpected has become the expected.
Just ask the Bucs.