TAMPA — Bucs coach Lovie Smith was asked last week if he wished the season could continue. He wasn't going to lie. He can't wait for it to end.
"When you're 2-13 … the sooner we end it, the quicker we start the next one, as I see it," he said. "I'm looking forward to that next stage."
The Bucs have a final chance to avoid losing every game at home this season and going winless in the NFC South when they host the Saints today at Raymond James Stadium.
When the autopsy is done on the Bucs' season, no single reason for the epic failure will be found, though many clues will point to the total ineptitude on offense.
Two critical decisions Smith made as soon as he was offered the job shortly after last season ended for the Bucs simply haven't worked out the way he had planned. He chose former Cal coach Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator and Josh McCown as his starting quarterback.
Tedford had a procedure to have two stents placed in a coronary artery two weeks before the start of the regular season and eventually went on an indefinite medical leave. His experience as a play-caller and his vision for the offense went with him. McCown — and backup Mike Glennon, for that matter — have struggled mightily as a result.
There are strong parallels to Raheem Morris' first season, when offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski was fired 10 days before the start of the regular season. The Bucs went 3-13.
Here is a look at all that has gone wrong — and a few things that have gone right — as the Bucs close the book on 2014:
When Tedford was named coach of the CFL's British Columbia Lions two weeks ago, he called his heart procedure a "temporary" setback and said he had been "good to go for a couple of months now and I feel great."
That didn't play well inside the walls of One Buc Place, where Tedford offered to work only part time before being placed on an indefinite medical leave and ultimately asking to be released from his contract so he could pursue other opportunities.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, this was the guy who spent 2013 in Smith's basement at his home near Chicago, selling an offense that was up-tempo and made good use of speed and space. One has to assume he had a big impact on what became an exclusively offensive draft.
All that went out the window when Tedford failed to return from the heart procedure. With no NFL-experienced play-caller on the staff and unable to install new terminology, the Bucs turned to 34-year-old quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, who was badly overmatched. Arroyo had at least had worked with Tedford at Cal, but he wasn't a successful play-caller at the collegiate level at Southern Miss.
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
That put Smith, a defensive-minded coach who hired four coordinators in Chicago, in the offensive meeting room. The result is the NFL's 31st-ranked defense that is on pace for the fewest rushing yards in a season in club history.
"Obviously, as a staff, we've got to go back and look at it and say, 'How come?' " Arroyo said.
The lone bright spot is that Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans should both go over 1,000 yards receiving, a feat that has never occurred in a season for the Bucs.
Smith's gamble on McCown has failed miserably. Rarely do 35-year-old career backups morph into playoff quarterbacks.
Smith watched McCown thrive in the Bears' offense in five starts last year, throwing 13 touchdown passes and just one interception. But Bears coach Marc Trestman isn't calling plays for the Bucs this year, and McCown hasn't had the Bears' offensive line or running back Matt Forte.
The biggest disappointment has been McCown's inability to protect the ball. He enters today with 13 interceptions and tied for second in the league with 10 fumbles, four of them lost. That has contributed to his 1-9 record.
"We were just so inconsistent," said McCown, the lowest-rated starting quarterback in the league.
Glennon has had his shot but went 1-4 while missing too many receivers as he started when McCown was out with a thumb injury, and he is 5-13 in his two seasons.
The Bucs either traded or released Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and Jeremy Zuttah in the offseason. In each case, their replacements haven't been any better, and in the case of left tackle Anthony Collins have been arguably worse. Smith has used four line combinations. Collins has been a healthy scratch for three weeks. The Bucs have flipped Demar Dotson from right tackle to left, something they should have done in the offseason. Even the trade for guard Logan Mankins hasn't paid off.
The Bucs enter today sixth in penalties, many of them on the offensive line. They also have allowed 45 sacks. "It has been a poor season as an offensive line," Dotson said. "This is poor, real poor."
No defensive continuity
Injuries have been the big culprit. The Bucs have had 37 games missed by starters, including a total of five by Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David.
But there also have been missed evaluations. Safety Mark Barron was traded to the Rams and linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the Patriots before the deadline. Free agent defensive end Michael Johnson, who signed a five-year, $43.5 million deal, has produced only four sacks and hasn't played with great effort.
The Bucs also have had no adequate backup for middle linebacker Mason Foster, who has missed four games.
"This system is trusting one another in what you're doing and knowing this guy is going to be where he needs to be," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "But when you're rotating guys all the time, it's a little bit tougher."
Smith and general manager Jason Licht have their work cut out for them. The good news is they can start working on 2015 soon.
"I can't wait, though, for those wins to start coming," Smith said. "We have one more chance for these guys (to) let us know what they want to do in the future."