The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into the 2014 season talking optimistically about a fast turnaround under new coach Lovie Smith. The Bucs were aggressive in free agency, and the company line was the team didn't want to ask fans to be patient any longer.
In reality, the patience of the fans was put to a strong test during a 2-14 season.
Smith's system didn't take hold right away and defeats piled up. Blowout losses to Atlanta and Baltimore were ugly, and there were painful, close losses along the way. The defense showed signs of improvement as the season went on, but this team didn't do much to build optimism for the future. Major personnel moves will have to come in the offseason.
Team MVP: Gerald McCoy. The defensive tackle was a constant on a team that didn't have much consistency. He finished with 8.5 sacks in a season cut short by a knee injury. McCoy was strong against the run and pass, and he also provided strong leadership. The team rewarded him with a big contract extension at midseason. That assures the team has at least one building block in place for the long term. The Bucs could use a bunch of other pieces as solid as McCoy.
Best moment: This season didn't have many highlights, but the Week 4 victory at Pittsburgh definitely was the shining moment. It came with second-year pro Mike Glennon filling in for an injured Josh McCown at quarterback and provided early-season hope. It showed Smith's system could work. The Bucs weren't able to build anything positive off the Pittsburgh win, but it showed they could be competitive on the road against a good team.
Worst moment: You could go in any number of directions on this one, but I think there's a hands-down winner. That was the Nov. 30 home game against Cincinnati. The Bucs seemed to do everything they needed to get a win. They drove the ball into field-goal range in the closing seconds for what seemed like a certain victory. But the play was called back because the Bucs were penalized for having 12 men in the huddle. They wound up losing 14-13.
2015 outlook: The good news is things probably can't get worse. The honeymoon is over for Smith, who needs to show positive results quickly. Despite the losing, Smith talked repeatedly about how his team was improving. You could see that in small portions, particularly on the defense. But the improvement needs to become much more obvious in Smith's second season. His team has the No. 1 overall draft pick and is likely to be active in free agency, and the Bucs need to start winning games or else Smith will end up on the hot seat.