TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise with a rich history of self-infliction is imploding again.
Rumors and reports keep swirling about an irreparable rift between coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman (which the quarterback denied). The offense seems to possess all the teeth of a Jerry Springer episode.
And if penalties are any sign, the franchise is as low on discipline as it is high on dysfunction.
For a coaching regime that arrived in 2012 with a barracks-style philosophy, the Bucs remain their own worst enemy. The evidence arrived shrouded in yellow flags Sunday, as the Saints prevailed 16-14 on Drew Brees’ 66-second drive that set up Garrett Hartley’s 27-yard field goal on the game’s final play.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” quarterback Josh Freeman said.
Tampa Bay was whistled 10 times for 118 yards. Its four personal fouls included two unnecessary roughness calls — helmet-to-helmet variety — in a three-play span. One of those negated a Drew Brees fumble.
“We just need to keep working on the strike zone, make sure we’re hitting where it’s legal,” Schiano said.
Then things regressed.
A 73-yard third-quarter touchdown from Freeman to Vincent Jackson was nullified by an illegal formation call. In the fourth, second-year safety Mark Barron’s pass interference call on a deep Brees pass gave the Saints a first down at the Tampa Bay 25.
Even one of the Bucs’ sparkling moments, strangely enough, resulted from a penalty.
When Leonard Johnson drew an offside whistle on Hartley’s 20-yard field goal 22 seconds before halftime, Saints coach Sean Payton was prompted to go for it on fourth down from the 1. Mark Ingram was met at pad level by Mason Foster just shy of the goal line.
A third-year linebacker, Foster put Tampa Bay ahead early in the fourth when he faked a blitz, dropped back in coverage, intercepted a Brees pass in the left flat and rambled 85 yards for a TD that gave the Bucs a 14-13 lead.
But it was an aberration on this afternoon of meteorological intrusion. The volatile west central Florida skies, which caused a 69-minute weather delay, had barely softened when the deluge of flags pelted the home team.
In its first eight quarters this season, Tampa Bay has been flagged 23 times for 220 yards.
“We’ve got to be better,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
Nestled among the infractions of the last two weeks: Lavonte David’s out-of-bounds hit on Jets quarterback Geno Smith in the season opener’s waning moments, preserving New York’s game-winning field-goal drive in an 18-17 win.
David, strangely, helped Foster on the tackle of Ingram at the goal line Sunday.
Yet for the second consecutive somber Sunday, the Bucs couldn’t help themselves.
“It’s tough no matter what,” Foster said. “When you have it right there and you let it go, it’s tough.”