No curses: Bucs say don't blame 'Hard Knocks' for disappointing season

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened up their practice fields, their meeting rooms and their personal lives to camera crews this summer for the HBO television series "Hard Knocks." They were portrayed as a hot up-and-coming team fresh off a 9-7 season, poised to take the next step. It touted them as playoff contenders for the first time in 10 seasons, and it garnered some added national attention as a result.

But things haven't gone so well, with the Bucs slipping to 4-7 with very little hope of reaching the playoffs. As a result, 2017 might go down as one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, as far as fans are concerned. Because of that, one has to wonder: Did the show create unrealistic expectations for them?

"I don't think so, no," said head coach Dirk Koetter. "I say all the time, no one has higher expectations for us than we have for ourselves, so I don't think anybody from the outside could create expectations."

Teams don't choose to go on "Hard Knocks" -- "Hard Knocks" chooses them. It was something he and defensive coordinator Mike Smith had dealt with before when they were with the Atlanta Falcons and didn't view it as a distraction the way some other teams did. Plus, they were a team coming off a winning season and weren't on the decline, which made them an intriguing story.

For tight end Cameron Brate, the show didn't create any unrealistic expectations or added pressure. That was internal.

"I don't think it was a distraction or anything at all," Brate said. "We have really high expectations for ourselves. We believe we're still a really talented team. The ball just didn't bounce our way a couple times this year. We didn't play up to our abilities all season. But it definitely wasn't a distraction or anything, the high expectations. It was fun having 'Hard Knocks' [here], having those expectations, but it's not fun when you don't live up to them."

Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was one of the most visible cast members on the show. The cameras followed him everywhere -- on the practice field, to his house and even inside his Batman-themed man cave. Did the show open him up to any more scrutiny?

"No, not for me. That doesn't really bother me," McCoy said. "For me, it's like whatever. I keep a lot of what I do private, but I'm so open and outgoing. But regardless of what happens, I'm going to be me. Nothing changes who I am. Winning or losing, fan scrutiny or critics or whatever -- it doesn't change me. It doesn't change my approach."

It helps that McCoy is playing well. He has 5.0 sacks, and his 21 quarterback hits are the most in the league by a defensive tackle.

"I'm always going to have the mindset of 'I've been blessed to play this game,'" McCoy said. "I could easily be somebody else, and I could easily not be in this position, so the season not going as I planned, it is what it is, man."

Another question that has been raised is the idea that there's a "Hard Knocks" curse floating around, and its latest victim is Tampa Bay. Indeed, the Bucs would have to win every game from here on out to match their record from last season.

The Kansas City Chiefs went from 9-7 in 2006 to 4-12 in 2007, the year they appeared on the show; and the Dallas Cowboys went from 13-3 and NFC East champs in 2007 to 9-7 and not reaching the playoffs at all in 2008 after their appearance.

In recent years, three of the past five teams on the show won seven or fewer games in the season that followed the show, but three had won seven or fewer the previous season, too.

In 2014, the year the Falcons appeared, Koetter and Smith lost their jobs after the Falcons went 6-10. But the previous season they were 4-12. The Los Angeles Rams were on the show in 2016 and finished 4-12, which led to Jeff Fisher's firing, after finishing the previous season 7-9.

But between 2001 and 2016, six of the 11 "Hard Knocks" teams made the playoffs that season. Four won their divisions. Some teams matched or improved their records after being on the show.

The Cincinnati Bengals were on the program in 2013 and finished 11-5 to win the AFC North after finishing 10-6 the season before. The Houston Texans were on the show in 2015 and finished 9-7 to win the AFC South, the same record they had the previous season.

In the Bucs' case, some might point to the shoulder injury suffered by Jameis Winston, who had started every game his first two seasons in the NFL -- or the recent allegation that he groped a female Uber driver, which is now under investigation by the league. Edge rusher Noah Spence was expected to have a breakout season, but instead, he wound up on injured reserve with another dislocated shoulder.

The ground game has struggled with Doug Martin and the offensive line, although it struggled when he was in there last season, too. Roberto Aguayo's kicking was so bad that he had to be replaced by Nick Folk, whose kicking was so bad that he had to be replaced by Patrick Murray (the bleeding has since stopped and Murray has been a rock).

Statistically, the Bucs have gone from the league's best third-down defense to its worst. But one could argue that the Bucs were even more cursed last season and the season before, when their receiving corps was gutted with injuries, or in 2014 under Lovie Smith, when their offensive coordinator was out for the season because of health issues.

The bottom line? The Bucs had high expectations with or without "Hard Knocks," and they believe they're solely responsible for the outcome of their disappointing season.

"I don't believe [the show] had anything to do with it," Koetter said. "They do a nice job with the TV show part of it, but that shouldn't have any effect on how we play on the field. We have high expectations for ourselves. We haven't been able to live up to those. Trust me, no one feels worse about that than we do. When I say 'we,' I am starting with myself."