Blame Jameis? Blame everybody for Bucs collective meltdown

TAMPA – It took about eight minutes for the referendum to begin on the Tampa Bay Bucs’ 2015 NFL season.

That’s when they trailed the Tennessee Titans 21-0 with 6:49 left in the first quarter Sunday afternoon.

Was Jameis Winston really a better choice than Marcus Mariota?

Is Lovie Smith the right coaching fit for this team, or is he a more experienced version of Greg Schiano?

Will Bucs fans exit in mass before the team returns home against the Carolina Panthers Oct. 4?

You could look for a positive slant on this and call Tampa’s 42-14 loss as one of those over-reaction Monday deals. One game. Suck it up, kids. It will all feel better by Wednesday.

Or you could take off the pewter-colored sunglasses and embrace the misery.

“Nothing was good tonight,” Smith said.

You think?

A few details: The Bucs have now lost 11 games in a row, dating to October 2014. Smith, the man in charge for all those games, has yet to win at home as a Bucs coach. And Winston, the face-of-the-franchise rookie from Florida State, looked out of his league.

His first NFL pass went for a touchdown. For the other team on a pick-six. He finished the day with OK stats – 16 of 33 for 210 yards with two TDs and two picks.

But Mariota – the No. 2 pick in the draft behind Winston – was fabulous. Short, crisp and efficient. The Oregon alum threw four TD passes, joining Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton as the only players to throw four or more TD passes in their first NFL game. It took Tarkenton an entire game, against the Chicago Bears, in 1961. Mariota only needed one half. His QB rating of 158.3 was perfect.

If I had a quarter for every “We should have taken Mariota!” rant on Tampa talk radio Monday morning …

“I’d say that their quarterback played better today,” Smith said when the inevitable Mariota-Winston question popped up. “Their football team played better today. Their coach did a better job of coaching to prepare their team today. But it’s one game.”

Blame Jameis? Blame everybody. A football team is always going to be the sum of all parts, so it’s not fair to pin all of this on Winston. He had his fair share of misery, but so did the defense, which got gashed in the running game and couldn’t cover anyone Sunday afternoon. And poor Winston was on the run most of the afternoon, thanks to an offensive line that gave Tennessee an open invitation to kill the quarterback.

No one was expecting the Bucs to emerge as a playoff contender. But one would expect a measure of progress. Or at the very least, competitiveness.

There was none of that.

This was Tampa Bay’s worst opening-day loss since 1996, reason enough for the boo birds to rain down on Winston and the Bucs in spurts during a game that was over by halftime when Tennessee led 35-7.

“We have to keep this in perspective. We were very disappointed, embarrassed and all that but it is one game,” Smith said. “That’s the only thing we can lay our hat on right now.”

As much as the Internet and radio yada-yada will focus on Winston, he’s got a good get-out-of-jail fee card. He’s a rookie, playing in his first NFL game. Smith is a veteran coach who won only two games last season. And he just lost a home season-opener to a Tennessee team that was also a two-win team in 2014.

Smith also puts even more pressure on himself this season by playing his “boss” card on defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Smith will call the team’s defensive alignments this season. At least Frazier can point to somebody else for the mess everyone saw on Sunday.

“It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish,” Winston said, keeping in line with his coach’s optimistic slant.

“We have to do our job. We have to play Bucs football.”

That’s the problem. They did just that.

Source: MSN Sports

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