|Phelan M. Ebanhack / Associated Press|
|Josh Freeman and the Bucs have failed to live up to expectations, making for a frustrating season.|
During post-game press conferences, NFL coaches often tell the media they "need to see the film" to diagnose what went wrong. Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay's on-the-hot-seat coach, certainly had some harsh words for his team this week after re-watching the Bucs' embarrassing 31-15 loss to Dallas on Saturday night. Though the team as a whole didn't quit -- the Bucs actually outscored the Cowboys 15-7 in the second half -- there were several instances when maximum effort wasn't given.
The lack of effort by the 4-10 Buccaneers looked especially bad on a weekend in which non-playoff teams like Indianapolis, Kansas City, Washington, Miami and Carolina won, and fringe playoff teams like Seattle, Arizona, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and San Diego continued streaking. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, lost its eighth in a row and third straight by at least 16 points.
Most of the venom from the fan base is aimed at Morris, who last season was the darling after leading the Bucs to 10 wins. Expectations increased as a result. But the demise of the team's "Youngry" talent, the regression of quarterback Josh Freeman, the repeated penalties and the woeful showing of a defense that Morris coordinates are all viable reasons for his job security being so shaky.
It's not a foregone conclusion that Morris will be fired. His retention or release could depend on who the Buccaneers would be able to find to replace the third-year coach, who stepped in when Jon Gruden was surprisingly fired after the 2008 season. Whether Bucs ownership will pay for a big-name coach could also be a factor.
The questionable effort and focus of players isn't helping Morris' cause.
A Buccaneers player told me before Saturday's loss that certain offensive players haven't consistently shown up for much of the season, and they haven't made an effort to change. Another team source said a big problem is that some of the younger players who had unexpected success last season didn't make the necessary adjustments to continuing to improve on the field.
Now that things aren't as rosy, sources said, the Bucs have become disenchanted.
That will be crystal clear on film, too. It will be easy to find those players who don't consistently perform because there are plenty of others -- like rookie Adrian Clayborn, tackle Donald Penn, cornerback Ronde Barber and Freeman, to name a few -- who are competing like they're paid to.
Players resoundingly say that they really like Morris and want to play for him. But liking Morris and respecting him are two different things. There's a good chance that some Patriots players don't like Bill Belichick, but they respect him. The fact that the Bucs want to play for Morris could signal that they are too comfortable with him.
That the Bucs are 4-10 also tells me that they don't like playing for him that much. Getting blown out in their past three games -- a 41-14 loss to Jacksonville being particularly inexcusable -- also tells me that they're really not playing to save Morris' job.
That shouldn't matter. What should is players playing to save their own jobs. The film won't disappear if Morris is fired. A new coach will come in, see that lack of effort and start making changes.
Which would really make a few of the current Bucs uncomfortable.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89