After getting off to a 3-1 start, the wheels have fallen off a bit for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Losers of three of their last four, Tampa Bay stares at tough slate of games (the majority on the road) in which they would need to go at least 6-2 to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
Before we look forward, let's take a glance back at the first half of the 2011 campaign.
Overall Record: 4-4
Quarter Record: 1-3
Current Pace: 8-8
Best Performance of the Half (Team): Tampa Bay 26, New Orleans 20
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a complete game against division rival New Orleans and controlled the game most of the way. A late rally by the Saints made the score a bit closer than it really was but the Bucs were definitely the superior team on this day, making a statement to the league (albeit briefly) that the Bucs were going to be in the division race and shouldn't be discounted.
Worst Performance of the Half (Team): San Francisco 48, Tampa Bay 3
The schedule says this game happened - but for some reason I can't remember any details from it. Damn binge drinking!
Most Valuable Player: Josh Freeman, QB
Josh Freeman has been struggling this season and it's showed in his statistical numbers and the team's record. Still, as Freeman goes, so goes the Buccaneers. Typically when the Freechise is on, this team is a winner. When he's not, they struggle.
In the past, he's been a second half quarterback - not only during games but in his season performance. He's holding true to form as his first game in November was perhaps his most consistent. A better Freeman gives the Bucs a chance against any team.
Most Improved Buccaneer: Preston Parker, WR
Preston Parker continues his rise from practice squad player to key contributor. Parker is third on the team with 26 receptions, leads the team in receiving yards (366) and is tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions (2). He's become Freeman's go to guy on third down as 15 of his 26 receptions have come on the "money down" and he's averaging 16.9 yds a reception on third down.
Parker is also the team's kickoff and punt returner.
Most Disappointing Buccaneer: Mike Williams, WR
Mike Williams has made Buccaneer fans remember another rookie wide out who had a great first season then fizzled out by his play this season. Targeted a team high 71 times, Williams has only hauled in 37 receptions for 363 yards and a single score. Williams hasn't gotten open, been able to read and react to what defenses are throwing at him or catch the ball cleanly when the ball comes his way.
Coach Raheem Morris said he was more worried about the players moving from their first to second year being affected by the lockout. That certainly has born true with Williams.
If the Bucs can get any kind of contribution from Williams in the second half of the season, the Bucs offense should be able to get back on track.
Rookie of the Half: Mason Foster, MLB
While he's certainly had his ups and downs, Mason Foster remains one of the most consistent players from this year's crop of rookies. Foster is tied for 2nd on the team in tackles with 41 tackles, has two sacks, 2 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Foster has a long way to go to become what the Bucs hope he will be - especially in pass defense, but he's off to a good start. As soon as he develops his instincts and ability to diagnose what the offense is doing, he's going to be one heck of a player for Tampa bay
Quartebacks - C
I don't think anyone is satisfied with Josh Freeman's performance this season. We know he can be better, we've seen it happen. We really need to see it again. Against the Saints last week, Josh for the first time this season looked a lot like the QB we saw last season, not forcing in the ball as he has done all year long, spreading the ball around and making sound decisions.
We'll have to see if he can keep up that type of momentum.
Running Backs - C-
After registering an A in the first quarter, the Bucs running game derailed in the second quarter. Injuries to LeGarrette Blount and Earnest Graham wreaked havoc for the team, leaving them with the greatness that is Kregg Lumpkin as their only option for nearly the entire ballgame against Chicago.
Lumpkin hasn't proven to be NFL level yet as his production of 42 yards on 14 carries (3.0 average) shows. Yet he remains Tampa Bay's option on 3rd downs instead of LeGarrette Blount.
Blount is solid when he gets the football but too many times this season the Bucs have abandoned the rushing attack too early.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends D
The only reason this isn't an F is thanks to Preston Parker and Dez Briscoe. If it's not Mike Williams dropping balls its Kellen Winslow sulking. If it isn't Regus Benn not getting targeted, its the Bucs getting penalized for offensive pass interference.
An area expected to be a strength has been a distinct weakness for Tampa Bay.
Offensive Line B
The offensive line has continued to protect Josh and keep their signal caller upright, surrendering just 10 sacks on Freeman this season.
They've been a bit inconsistent in the running game, sometimes opening gaping holes while other times missing easy blocks and allowing penetration.
Consistency keeps the Bucs' o-line from being elite.
Defensive Line C-
After a good start, the Bucs' defensive line faltered in the second quarter of the season. Pressure that was being applied in the early weeks of the season has subsided and opposing quarterbacks are finding it a pretty easy day against the Bucs' defensive line.
You can attribute some of the decline to the loss of 2010 First Round bust Gerald McCoy, who missed most of the second quarter with injuries.
Tampa Bay was so desperate to fill the void, they broke out of their build through the draft mode and claimed malcontent Albert Haynesworth off waivers.
The coaches were fond of saying that while McCoy wasn't putting up numbers, he was making everyone else better. It remains to be seen if Haynesworth can provide that type of impact without fracturing the sanctity of the locker room.
Rookie DE and First Round pick Adrian Clayborn has looked promising and is someone opposing offenses have noticed.
Linebackers - D
Another area that has significantly declined in the second half is the linebacking core. Terrible tackling and poor technique has plagued this unit in the second quarter.
After putting together some solid performances against the run, the Bucs' run defense has fallen apart. Part of that is due to the subpar performance of the defensive line but the poor tackling of the linebacking core is also a factor.
There's talent there, they're just not making the plays necessary to play winning football.
Defensive Backs - D
The return of Tanard Jackson has been a godsend for the Bucs' secondary, otherwise, this grade would be a pure F. Aquib Talib hasn't made an impact, Ronde Barber has matchup issues with every receiver he faces and guys like EJ Biggers and Myron Lewis have yet to prove they are NFL caliber.
The one part of the Bucs' defense you could count on being among the league's best - even in the defense's slide to mediocrity was Raheem's DB's. The pass defense is now worse than the run defense and folks, that's saying something.
Specialists - A+
Both Connor Barth and Michael Koenen have been absolutely tremendous the first half of the season. Koenen is such a vital weapon for the Bucs and perhaps the best signing of Mark Dominik's tenure with Tampa Bay.
Barth continues to be reliable as ever.
Coaching - D
We gave Raheem and his staff high marks in the first quarter for getting the team off to a hot start despite the lockout, but that start has vanished and several lapses and concerns abound.
The penalties are of greatest concern. A season after being one of the least penalized teams in the league, Tampa Bay is surrendering 71.6 yards a game of hidden yardage to penalties - only Oakland is worse.
What's distressing it's not the rookies making the mistakes but veterans and 2nd year guys that were on the team last year.
Add to that the baffling play calling and personnel decisons on both sides of the ball that has led the Bucs to being ranked 15th offensively and 29th on defense overall, and you have some major questions regarding this staff.
Now, with public infighting on the field being commonplace, they invite the serial cancer Albert Haynesworth into the locker room.
Raheem Morris doesn't have a contract past this season. A poor finish by his club could end the tenure of this youngry coach.
The Bucs are a baffling football team. There are times when they can go toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the league. Then there's times when they look like a bunch of bumbling buffoons that can't play the game to save their lives.
Who are the real Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The one that took down the Saints and Falcons or the one that got beat by 45 points by the 49ers.
The truth is, they're somewhere in the middle.
Looking at the schedule for the rest of the way, you see a tough go of it the next few weeks. Even if the Bucs fall to 4-6, all is not lost. The schedule significantly loosens up with winnable games against Tennessee, Carolina (twice), Jacksonville and Dallas. In fact, after the Bucs get past Houston and Green Bay, the only team left on their schedule with a winning record is the season ending showdown with the Falcons.
The key will be the coaching staff's ability to keep the team together during this next tough stretch of games.
Revised predicted finish: 9-7