What Went Wrong: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The dropoff was both swift and severe. Heading into the first week of December, 2008 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 9-3, in a dogfight with Carolina for the NFC South lead and with an outside shot at claiming the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Bucs wouldn't win another game for 11 months.
The trouble started before the 2009 season began as Tampa Bay fired longtime coach Jon Gruden and took a gamble on Raheem Morris, who had never coached or been a coordinator at the NFL level. Tampa Bay took another roll of the dice in the draft by selecting the athletic but raw Josh Freeman to be the quarterback of the future. Then, just days before the season began, the Bucs fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. If it seemed like the young Buccaneers were in over their heads, it's because they were. Tampa Bay dropped the first seven games, losing by double digits on all but two occasions. Freeman got his first start against the Packers and Tampa Bay pulled off a shocking 38-28 upset. However, Freeman came crashing back to Earth as over the next five games he threw 13 interceptions and was sacked 13 times as well. But over the final three weeks Freeman grew more confident and led the Buccaneers to a win over Seattle before pulling off a second most stunning upset, a 20-17 win at New Orleans. The problem didn't necessarily start with Freeman. Derrick Ward was brought in to shore up the backfield but he finished just 409 rushing yards and only one score. A bright spot was the return of Cadillac Williams, who led the team with 823 yards. Kellen Winslow was another offseason addition and he was the go-to guy in the air attack. However, nobody else surfaced as a receiving threat.
It was a mixed bag defensively for the Bucs. Tampa Bay finished a surprising 10th in pass defense as Aqib Talib and Tenard Jackson roamed the secondary. But the Bucs were terrible against the run, giving up a league-high 158 rushing yards per game. Tampa Bay gave up 163 yards to Fred Jackson, 152 to DeAngelo Williams and 147 to Jason Snelling in the season finale. The Bucs also surrendered an average of 20 first downs per game as opponents were able to wear out Tampa Bay in the second half. There is no team in the NFL that can take on that kind of barrage and be successful. Tampa Bay finished 27th in scoring defense giving up exactly 400 points on the year.
Gone are the days of the dominant Bucs defense as Tampa Bay looks to replace the likes of Derrick Brooks. With a lot of offense in the NFC South the Bucs will need to overhaul a front seven that got gutted on a weekly basis. Freeman will need to be surrounded by more weapons if he is to continue his development. The silver lining for Tampa Bay is the fact that they finished last in the South and in the ever-changing landscape of the division the last place team has always made the playoffs the following year.