The Bucs’ first series of last week’s loss against the Jets was an unmitigated disaster. When QB Josh Freeman’s headset stopped working, he was forced to take a time out. Back on the field, the headset continued to malfunction amidst the crowd noise, and the Bucs were slapped with two delay of game penalties in a row. After a sack and a false start penalty, this series mercifully ended in a punt.
It seemed clear from the sloppy mess on the field that this would be a long season for Buc fans. Another long season.
But that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
On the field, the Bucs ended up losing the game when one of the most promising young players, second year linebacker Lavonte David, was penalized for hitting Jets rookie QB Geno Smith as he was running out of bounds. This penalty gave the Jets the field position they needed to kick a winning field goal in the waning seconds of the game, while David teared up on the sideline.
Then, off the field, the real circus began.
For the past year, there have been questions about the relationship between new head coach Greg Schiano and Freeman. Freeman was declared the leader of the Bucs years before Schiano took over the team, and it was unclear whether Schiano agreed with this declaration. By all reports, Schiano’s command of the Bucs falls somewhere on the scale between a benevolent despotism and an absolute dictatorship, and so a tenuous relationship with the QB did not bode well for Freeman’s future. Still, last year passed, the men said nice things about each other in the press, and all was reasonably well.
Until the Bucs chose QB Mike Glennon in the third round of this year’s draft. Until the press, without any other Buc drama to focus on in the offseason, began scrutinizing Freeman and writing scathing articles about the QB nearly every day for months on end leading up to this, the last year of his Buc contract.
But things boiled over this week.
First, Captain-gate 2013. After three years of being voted captain of the team, Bucs players did not vote Freeman an offensive captain this year. Speculation ran wild. Did Schiano fix the vote so that he could start Glennon later in the year? Do Freeman’s teammates not trust him?
Then. Team Meeting-gate 2013. The Bucs held a players-only meeting before the season. This was reported as being extremely ominous, but the meaning of the gathering was unclear. Did the players want to discuss how poor a leader they think Freeman is? Did they want to discuss how poor a coach they think Schiano is? Could both be true?
Finally. Photo-gate 2013. A story was released this week that Freeman overslept for team photos before the season began. More speculation. Is Josh a poor leader? Does he value partying more than he values football? Or are the Bucs just releasing the story now to build a case against Freeman in the court of public opinion?
Every day this week there is a new aspect of the story revealed in the media. Murky details about the state of relationships between the coaching staff and the players. New gossip and drama and petty arguments to broadcast to the public.
What has been written about relatively less in all of this is today’s game against the New Orleans Saints. And maybe that’s because it is just more interesting to read about human drama than it is to read about a team that in the middle stages of rebuilding, that has made some nice acquisitions but still has a ways to go before playing at an elite level. Plus, the Bucs are a small-market team, and not one that many outside of the Tampa Bay area care to read about. (This has become evident to me as I’ve moved around the country and am almost always the lone Buc fan wherever I go.)
But for those of us who do want the Bucs to succeed on the field, and have harmony off the field, this already feels like an unsalvageable season. It’s my hope that the Schiano vs. Freeman standoff is resolved soon. Ideally, Freeman would play wonderfully and Schiano would come around to love him, but realistically perhaps a parting of the ways would be best for the team, for the men involved, and for the fans who just want to read about how scary it will be to face Drew Brees this week.