Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 12/5/11

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20: Head Coach Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers watches from the sidelines during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 20, 2009 in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills won 33-20. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
TAMPA You could see the frustration and pain etched in Raheem Morris face Monday. The smile he often flashes from the podium at One Buc Place was nowhere to be seen, and the frequent sparkle in his eyes instead conveyed an air of dejection. Such is life these days for the third-year Tampa Bay head coach as he searches for answers to the confounding questions besetting his young Bucs, who dropped their sixth straight game Sunday in an embarrassing 38-19 thrashing by the upstart Carolina Panthers. But before Morris even began addressing the problems that have persistently undercut his team, he addressed the group of media in the room with an apology for letting an expletive a naughty one Santa would not be happy about slip from his lips during his post-game press conference Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. It happened as he was describing how hed told defensive tackle Brian Price to go home, following a costly unnecessary roughness penalty committed by the second-year pro a four-letter word Morris appeared to utter inadvertently, to no one in particular, amid the emotion of the moment. First of all, I thought Id start off by apologizing for cussing at you yesterday, he said at his Monday press briefing. (It was) a slip of the tongue, some frustration on my part. I just expect more from my guys. And these guys are exactly that theyre my guys. And I expect more from them. We want to go out and play better and do a better job with these young men. It was one of those kind of Monday mornings for Morris, confronted with the cold reality that his team is far less ready for prime time than he and general manager Mark Dominik previously believed. You cant get much more convincing evidence of that than what happened Sunday. An equally young Panther team one that has spent much of the season dead last in the NFC South and entered the game 3-8 ran off 11 plays of 19 yards or longer against the overmatched Buc defense. For most of the afternoon, the unit seemed powerless to contain Carolinas play-making rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who rushed for three touchdowns, threw for another and scrambled for key yardage seemingly at will. All told, the Panthers outrushed the Bucs 163-78, with tailback Jonathan Stewart dashing through would-be tacklers en route to 80 yards on 14 carries as well. With only four games left for a 4-8 team, theres no more bold talk of a division title, a playoff appearance or even a winning record. Even finishing .500 is going to be a challenge now, with three of the four contests on the road (Jacksonville on Sunday, the Panthers Dec. 24 and the Falcons Jan. 1) with a home game against the tough Dallas Cowboys Dec. 17. Under those challenging circumstances, whats a head coach to do with a youth movement approach that clearly hasnt panned out? Youve got to go out and play fast, and you have to play hard and consistent and smart the two things we havent done this year, he said. Weve gone out there and played fast and hard. (But) weve got to do a better job. So for us, weve got to cut back do less things and let these guys play fast, smart and more consistent, to be able to go out there and do some of these things we want to do. Obviously, were nowhere near where we wanted to be as far as an organization and what we wanted to do this year. So well cut back. Well get these guys better. Well get their confidence going higher, running around and flying to the football. Same thing on offense, executing the way we want things executed. Same thing on special teams. What precisely does cutting back entail for the Bucs at this point? Well cut back on some of our plays, he said. Well cut back on some of our plays. Well cut back on some of our defensive calls. Well cut this thing down pretty good and go out there and execute, and play consistent and smart. Then there was the Price incident. On the final play of the third quarter, the tackle was flagged after he knocked down a Panther lineman after the fact negating a Geno Hayes sack against Newton on a second-and-10, and giving Carolina a first down that propelled an eventual touchdown drive. Morris defended his action, but emphasized the respect he has for Price, who was not available for comment Sunday or Monday. And he explained his motivation for taking such an unusual in-game action. Brian Price is a guy that I depend on, and count on for someone of leadership in that room, he said. So I have a low tolerance for my guy. And we talked about it before. Well talk it (more) today. Brian Price is someone I expect so much from, because hes probably one of the best D-linemen that we have. We cannot make those kind of mistakes. Hes got to be an example setter. Ive probably forced him into more of a leadership role than hes ready for at this point. But its got to start with somebody, and its got to start with probably your best football player. Hes certainly in that category. We cant make those mistakes - we just cannot do those things. And he knows. Morris hinted that hell continue to take playing time away from guys to make sure they understand how serious he is on cutting down on silly penalties. Ive got a bunch of soldiers in there and they listen to just about anything you tell them, he said. And we talk about going out and getting less penalties, weve got to do. Its got to be a collective development amongst everybody. That gets back to the Brian Price thing. The foolish penalties are the ones youve got to cut out not the pass interference at the end of the game on (Anthony) Gaitor; the ones that we can control, that only have to do with us. Morris said hell also be utilizing the remaining four games to evaluate certain players, such as cornerback Anthony Gaitor, running back Mossis Madu and safety Corey Lynch. Youll get a chance to see a bunch of people, he said. Players arent just competing for jobs now some voiced Sunday how they want to play well enough in the remaining games to keep the coaching staff intact, and prevent potential changes from taking place. Thats the nature of our beast, Morris said. Im not up here telling you these players dont care. These guys care. Im not gonna tell you that these coaches dont care. I know the work that they put it into; I know the work that we put into it. Once in a while, you get a little ball bounce, and we didnt get that ball bounce this year. But Ive got a lot of confidence in this group, and Ive got a lot of confidence in where the organization is going. Ive got a lot of confidence in what can happen. Its easy to appreciate Morris frustration. Hes had to play the cards that were dealt to him and his hand didnt include any new free agent blood that was so available when the lockout ended. Its only common sense that a head coach would like have the roster depth and depth of experience that a free agent here and there would provide to such an overwhelmingly young squad. But Dominiks decision to largely stay out of the free agent market (aside from punterkickoff man Michael Koenen) sent Morris into battle with a defense that lacked the tools to compete over the long haul this season. The GMs policy was designed to reward deserving Buc players already on the roster, and build around the draft. Yet, as noted previously in this space, that philosophy has looked increasingly misguided, especially now as the Bucs have gone from a first-place tie with the Saints at 4-2 to last place in the division at 4-8 (tied in record with the Panthers but trailing head-to-head). The approach was even suspect when you consider how strong the post-lockout free agent market was with many veteran players eager to cut deals in the condensed one-week signing period before camp began. The Bucs are now facing the consequences of gladly letting that window close. Was it the Glazer Family that directed Dominik to shun free agents before the season? Or Did Dominik come up with the plan on his own to please his bosses? Who knows? All thats clear is that the price is steep when you try to compete on the cheap. Morris stated goal when the season began was to reach the playoffs after falling heartbreakingly short of the post-season at 10-6 last year. Whether that same goal was shared by upper management is what is in question here.
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