Bitter end
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 2 January 2012

It is sure to wind up on one of those NFL blooper videos. At the very least it's worthy of a "C'mon, Man!" segment on Monday Night Countdown.

Kregg Lumpkin saw the blitz and did his job, curling out of the backfield and turning to look for the pass over the middle that had already left the hand of quarterback Josh Freeman.

But that was before he was splattered like a bug on a windshield by his teammate, tight end Kellen Winslow, who missed an assignment and ran the wrong route on an audible by Freeman.

The collision resulted in a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown by Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton, part of a 42-0 deficit that became a 45-24 loss by the Bucs (4-12) to the playoff-bound Falcons on Sunday.

This is what will be remembered about the 2011 Bucs: Their pain was self-inflicted, and they were so bad at times that they couldn't get out of their own way.

The laugh-track defeats — and the worst defense in the history of the franchise after yielding 494 points — could result in the firing of Bucs coach Raheem Morris, who went from his self-proclaimed race to 10 wins a year ago to the disgrace of 10 straight losses in his third season.

"He'll take all the blame and probably shouldn't, but that's just the kind of guy Raheem is," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "I admire Raheem for the things he says and the things he takes upon his shoulders as his fault.

"It's all of our faults. As a unit, as a team, collectively, all six units in the building, none of them were good enough. To put it all on Raheem, that's very shortsighted. I hate to see him get all that blame because it's not him."

That's essentially what Morris said when he addressed the team after the game in a locker room full of cold stares and long faces.

Morris spoke first, telling players he appreciated their effort in the second half, even though by then the Falcons had benched most of their starters, including quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner, who rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

"His message was, 'It's not about me,' " center Jeff Faine said of Morris' postgame address. "It's about us rededicat­ing our team and everybody being committed to improving on their craft."

Faine spoke next, particularly to the Bucs' young players who were no doubt affected by the NFL lockout and lack of an offseason.

"My message to the team was that it's not going to be magic," Faine said. "It isn't just where you hit the reset button and it's all fixed. There's a lot of work we've got to put in this offseason. Regardless what happens, the core of this team is still going to be back. The work needs to be put in.

"It's going to take a lot of hard work. It's not just physical, it's mental, too. Get into the classroom and make sure we can depend on everybody to know their stuff."

Barber, 36, passed Derrick Brooks on Sunday for the most games played in franchise history with 225. But he watched the second half from the sideline in street clothes because of a right arm injury. Depending partly on Morris' status, Barber might have played his last game Sunday, but he said that decision won't be made for several months.

Still, in 15 seasons of pro football, Barber said he has never seen a team collapse so quickly in games and during a season.

"A myriad of thoughts go through your head when they've got 28 points the first 10 minutes of the game," he said. "At the end of the day, we have a bunch of guys not doing their job well enough. This game is the promise of what you have today, and I think we have a lot of guys who have to realize that.

" Just being out there doesn't guarantee you're good enough to play at all. You've got to put the work in. I've never been around a team where it went so bad, so quickly. Like, it's hard to steady the ship."

Freeman, who passed for 274 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions Sunday, said he was frustrated by the whole season and was looking forward to getting away from football for a few days.

"I love Rah as a head coach," Freeman said. "I appreciate the effort and the intensity he brings to the team. All our guys, we have an extremely hard-working coaching staff. Being a player, I got to say from a player's perspective, a lot of it boils on us."

Morris was unshakable in his belief that he will return next season. "I'm going to go to work tomorrow," he said. "Until they tell you to stop, man."

But even Barber sounded fatalistic about what will happen next. "I've enjoyed the journey," Barber said. "I told Raheem, the journey doesn't end just because whatever is going to happen, happens. The 2012 Buccaneers will go on regardless of whether I'm here or Raheem is here or whoever is here."