Let's be honest. Most of the excitement this Buc season took place off the field. On the field, nothing much happened (except losing), but behind the scenes big stories started breaking last January and just kept coming. Gruden was fired and Coach Raheem was hired; Derrick Brooks and the other oldies-but-goodies were released; new coordinators came on-board; new coordinators were kicked off-board. And on, and on.
So it's no surprise that the big news before this week's game was not how well the team would play its last game of the season but whether the team's play would force the Glazers to hire former Steelers' head coach Bill Cowher for the 2010 season. And now, 1 day A.F. (After Football), the rumblings are even more rampant. Though I am personally on Team Raheem, I have to admit that if hiring Cowher as head coach means that Bucs fans might spend next season focusing on the actual game of football instead of a series of humiliating miscues by the organization, well, that might be ok, too.
Not helping Coach Rah's cause was the 20-10 loss to the Falcons this weekend. I expected little during the game, but the Bucs were unable to meet even the most moderate expectations.
[Update: Apparently the Glazers' expectations were met. Word from ESPN is that Morris will be back for another year.]
Expectation 1: Ronde Barber will get an interception. Ronde has had at least one interception every year for the past 12 years. His streak ended this year, as he did not get an interception against the Falcons. Or rather, he did intercept the ball, but the play was called back when Ronde was called for a(n alleged) holding penalty. Though the penalty seemed bogus, the stat stands. No INTs for Ronde this year.
Expectation 2: Keep Atlanta from consecutive winning seasons. In the history of the Atlanta Falcons, the team never had two consecutive seasons with a winning record. Until now. I hope Arthur Blank sends the Glazers a fancy peach cobbler or something.
Expectation 3: Play with enough determination to convince the Glazers to keep Coach Rah. At the end of Gruden's tenure with the Bucs, many of the players resented him. When he was fired, few players had anything positive to say about him, and the unhappy locker room had to have something to do with the team's 4-game skid at the end of the season. On the other hand, this year's losing Bucs have rallied behind Raheem--publicly announcing their admiration for him and playing with a winning spirit even after 12 losses. It's one of the main reasons that I'm on Team Raheem in the first place.
But on Sunday the offense came out sleeping. The offensive line looked down-right weak, the running game stalled, and Freeman routinely threw into crowds of white jerseys. (The Bucs wore red.) There was no sense of urgency until the fourth quarter comeback, which unfortunately ended when Freeman threw a poorly-aimed pick in the endzone.
Result, Offense: Fail
I will say, however, that both the defense and special teams put forth a great effort. The defense held the Falcons to 3 points for the first 30 minutes of play (though the Falcons did score a touchdown at the very end of the 2nd quarter to make it 10-0). Their tackling was once again questionable, but they had two (almost three) interceptions and both Geno Hayes and Stylez G White got some pressure on QB Matt Ryan. Of course, the Bucs also allowed Atlanta back-up RB to gain 147 yards single-handedly, but that can be partially attributed to the fact that the offense kept them on the field for much of the game. (It can also be attributed to the Bucs' 32nd ranked rush defense.)
As for special teams, they forced a fumble on opening kickoff and blocked yet another field goal attempt.
Result, Defense: 1/2 Pass and 1/2 Fail; Result, Special Teams: Pass +