On Football

Buccaneers have been their own worst enemies

Buccaneers linebackers Mason Foster and Lavonte David already have two sacks and an interception each this season.
mel evans/associated press
Buccaneers linebackers Mason Foster and Lavonte David already have two sacks and an interception each this season.

The Buccaneers hired Greg Schiano in January 2012 to instill much-needed discipline into a team that lost its final 10 games of 2011.

Schiano instituted a lot of rules: no looking fatigued on the practice field; no text messaging at the team facility; warm-up drills must be done in perfectly straight lines; quarterbacks must wear a brace on their front knee; the thermostat must be set at a certain temperature to keep the players alert; sprint drills don’t begin until all players have their “toes on the line.”

“You can’t laugh. You can’t joke around,” tight end Kellen Winslow said last year, right before getting traded to Seattle.


And yet discipline is exactly what the 0-2 Bucs are lacking as they prepare for Sunday’s matchup with the Patriots in Foxborough.

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It began on the very first offensive drive of the season, against the Jets. The Bucs had a first down at their 49-yard line, and here is how the drive ended: incomplete pass; timeout; delay-of-game penalty; delay-of-game penalty; sack; false start; pass for 2 yards; punt on fourth and 33.

And it hasn’t gotten much better for the Bucs, who according to became the first team in league history to lose its first two games on field goals inside the final five seconds.

They lead the NFL with 23 penalties through two games, including four false starts, four for unnecessary roughness, three delay of games, and two for illegal formation. Safety Dashon Goldson was suspended for this week’s game for a helmet-to-helmet hit this past Sunday.

They lost in Week 1 to the Jets after linebacker Lavonte David shoved quarterback Geno Smith out of bounds with 15 seconds left, incurring a personal-foul penalty to put New York in field goal range. Against the Saints on Sunday, they had a big touchdown wiped off the board because of an illegal formation, and couldn’t stop the Saints from marching down to the 9-yard line in the final minute.


“Right now it’s a lot of self-inflicted errors, self-inflicted wounds that we need to make go away,” Schiano said. “I’m frustrated, and it’s not cliché. I’m frustrated by [23] penalties called against the Bucs in two games. We should go three to four games with [23] penalties.”

And then there’s the matter of the quarterback, Josh Freeman, whose standing with the team has turned into a daily soap opera and potentially has fractured the locker room.

Freeman, entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, never clicked with Schiano last year, and the Bucs refused to extend his contract this summer while drafting Mike Glennon in the third round.

Freeman supposedly was not voted a captain by his teammates after serving as one the last three years, prompting several players to question whether Schiano rigged the voting. Then it was conveniently “leaked” last week that Freeman missed the team photo.

CBS reported Sunday that Freeman’s camp wants a trade out of Tampa Bay, but Freeman’s response after the game only added to the confusion.


“If it’s going on, I need a new camp because there is nothing I’ve heard,” he said. “The first I heard of it was literally 10 seconds ago, or right before I walked in here. Without a doubt, I’m a Buccaneer.”

Schiano’s tactics also have irked Bucs fans. On third and 6 Sunday with 1:56 to go and the Saints out of timeouts, Schiano opted to hand off to Doug Martin instead of letting Freeman seal the win with a first-down pass. Martin gained only 3 yards, Schiano opted for a 47-yard field goal attempt instead of pinning the Saints deep with a punt, the Bucs missed the field goal, and the Saints marched down for the victory.

Yet Schiano isn’t necessarily wrong for not having much faith in his quarterback. Freeman has completed just 45.3 percent of passes through two games while averaging only 167.5 passing yards.

“It’s not my job to go out and say, ‘If they had just let me . . .’ ” Freeman said. “I’m just going along with the game plan. It’s not my job to second-guess any play call.”

Despite the Bucs’ dysfunction, it took an incredible string of bad plays and bad luck for them to get to 0-2.

“Talk about a team that’s two plays away from being 2-0,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “I have a lot of respect for the way that they play. They’re a tough, physical team. They play hard on every play in all three phases of the game.”

And the Bucs certainly won’t be an easy matchup for the Patriots, who may have to squeak out their third straight win.

The Bucs are similar to the Patriots’ first two opponents (Bills and Jets) in that they have a stout defense and a strong running game but an offense held back by shaky quarterback play. But Freeman at least has a 4,000-yard passing season and 80 touchdown passes on his résumé, unlike the two rookies the Patriots have faced.

Freeman is also dangerous with his feet, and the Patriots must again look to contain him in the pocket and “be very disciplined with your rush lanes,” Belichick said. The Patriots didn’t blitz Smith or EJ Manuel much to keep them contained in the pocket, and could take a similar tack with Freeman.

The Bucs also have better weapons around Freeman than the Bills and Jets have around their quarterbacks.

Receiver Vincent Jackson poses major problems for a secondary. A three-time Pro Bowler who stands 6 feet 5 inches and 230 pounds, Jackson dominated the Patriots’ smaller cornerbacks for three days of practice during the preseason and has 12 catches for 231 yards this year.

Martin, meanwhile, had 1,926 total yards and 12 touchdowns in his rookie season, and is off to another good start this year with 209 yards in two games.

“Really, I think he’s a complete back that can play all three downs effectively,” Belichick said. “Tough kid. He’ll stick it up in there and block in blitz pickup.”

Defensively, the Bucs are formidable on all three levels. They are tied for the league lead with nine sacks behind stout defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy, and Akeem Spence. They have two excellent young linebackers in Mason Foster and David, who each have two sacks and an interception this year, and added Darrelle Revis to a talented young secondary with safety Mark Barron and cornerback Johnthan Banks.

The Patriots struggled to score points against the Bills and Jets, and should continue to struggle against the Bucs, even if tight end Rob Gronkowski comes back.

“They have a good mixture of pressure, coverage, movement up front, they’re very fast and athletic,” Belichick said. “They’re very fast and explosive, no matter who they have on the field.”

If the Bucs can cut down on the penalties and mental errors, this could be a dangerous game for the hobbling Patriots.

“The unforced errors we have to get our arms around, because just eliminating those, we are 2-0 instead of 0-2,” Schiano said. “It will get fixed. We have a good football team and we’ll win.”


Buccaneers by the numbers

2: Games lost by Tampa Bay on field goals in the final five seconds. The Bucs are the first team to start season with two such losses.

9: Sacks for the Buccaneers defense, tied for first in NFL. It ranks eighth with 34 points allowed.

45.3: Completion percentage for QB Josh Freeman (335 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions).

53: Carries for RB Doug Martin, most in the NFL. He averages 3.9 yards per carry.

Ben Volin can be reached at