TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a very winnable home opener against the L.A. Rams Sunday -- a game they needed entering the toughest portion of their schedule -- and head coach Dirk Koetter believes it boils down to a losing culture.
"There’s something in our culture -- and it’s my job to fix it, along with the coaches -- of letting games like this get away," Koetter said. "I wish I could grab it. I’ve been on teams that have had it, and you don’t want to let go of it. But when you don’t have it, it's hard to figure out what it is."
He added that this was no insult to the Rams. "I am concerned with what our team does," Koetter said. "We just have to get over that hump, and we’re not there.”
Then Roberto Aguayo missed a 41-yard field goal attempt with 4:46 to go in the third quarter with the Bucs ahead 20-17, and the Rams scored the next 21 points while the Bucs fell apart.
Koetter said this falls squarely on his shoulders as head coach. "The lesson our team needs to learn is that every week is a battle and it doesn’t matter who the other team is," Koetter said. "Our culture is not where it needs to be, and that starts with me."
The Bucs have been trying to 'fix' their culture ever since Jon Gruden was fired and Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik were promoted in 2009.
After three seasons and a 10-game losing streak under Morris, the organization realized things had gotten too lax, so they brought in head coach Greg Schiano, a disciplinarian. With ownership's approval, Dominik armed him with the free agents Morris could only dream of having. But Schiano only made it through two seasons. His teams were competitive, but any team damn-well better be with Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and Vincent Jackson. Schiano went 4-12 in his second season, and both he and Dominik were fired.
In came head coach Lovie Smith, who was supposed to restore a team that lost sight of its identity -- a defense that would make teams pay, especially at home, rather than rolling out the welcome mat. They brought in GM Jason Licht, a bright football mind who had a winning pedigree from his time with the Cardinals, Patriots and Eagles. Surely this tandem could get them back on track.
Patience wore thin quickly for Smith though, even as the Bucs jumped from 2-14 to 6-10 in his second season. The defense wasn't showing enough, but ownership was thrilled with what they saw from Dirk Koetter's offense and Licht's draft picks, including a 2015 draft that produced four starters. The team promoted Koetter to head coach in 2016, and he's continued to take this offense to new heights.
The Bucs have had just one winning season in the past seven, and each loss gets a little more deflating than the last despite a growing list of budding young stars who, at times, electrified on Sunday. Mike Evans and Adam Humphries had at least 100 receiving yards. Cameron Brate replaced tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and hauled in two touchdown passes. Kwon Alexander had a pick-six. Lavonte David forced a fumble and Chris Conte recovered it. Usually those plays are more than enough.
But for every step forward, the Bucs took three steps back, stumbling. It was like seeing a horse at a distance that looks like a stallion, only to realize it's a wobbly colt still growing into its legs. That's what the Bucs are right now. They are not ready to be in the race with the big horses, and until they shed that losing mentality or whatever it is that has ailed them since Jon Gruden, Monte Kiffin and the organization's pillars like Derrick Brooks left, it's going to stay that way.