When the 2011 season began, each of the three Florida NFL franchises were in different stages. Now that the season is ending on Sunday, they will all likely end up with similar records, more questions than answers, and will compete against each other for new coaches.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers figured to be the best Florida team entering 2011 as they were coming off a 10-win campaign. Many believed that the progression of the young players in the offseason would offset the tougher schedule. That obviously didn’t occur.
The NFL is a quarterbacks league and Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman took a huge step backwards this season. After throwing for 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2010, Freeman has tossed just 14 touchdowns and 19 picks in 2011.
“He’s the easiest quarterback we had to game plan against this season,” an unnamed defensive player who faced the Bucs said.
Along with Freeman’s regression was the steps backward by most of the receivers. Add in as many fumbles as touchdowns for running back LeGarrette Blount and several defensive injuries and the Bucs have seemingly given up hope as they’ve dropped nine straight games. It appears as if Tampa general manger Mark Domenik overestimated the talent on his roster.
“I need to go back and make sure we continue to build this team for the future,” Morris said after a recent loss.
Raheem may be concerned about the Bucs personnel but he probably doesn’t need to worry about the teams future, as he likely won’t be a part of it. Sources have told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Tampa will part ways with Morris following the Bucs season finale Sunday at Atlanta.
In Miami, the Dolphins began the season with massive distractions as owner Stephen Ross attempted to replace head coach Tony Sparano in the offseason with John Harbaugh. The team then flirted with the idea of replacing starting quarterback Chad Henne with Kyle Orton.
The distractions led to an 0-7 start and with it came an injury to quarterback Chad Henne. The team had hit rock bottom, the futures of Henne and Sparano had already been decided and thus the pressure was off the team. Since that start Miami won five of eight games.
“Sometimes when you’re not winning it is hard to see that progress is being made,” Sparano said. “All of a sudden it’s transferred to a few wins.”
Although Sparano was terminated a couple weeks ago the team has continued to play well. Miami will finish 2011 with a 5-11 or 6-10 record, but there are some building blocks for the future for whichever coach takes over.
Meanwhile in Jacksonville, the Jaguars front office spoke openly about a goal of winning the AFC South in 2011. Reality showed that it was little more than lip service. When the team traded up to acquire quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the draft, it was only a matter of time before the team would be turned over to the rookie.
Gabbert made his first start during a Week 3 loss to Carolina and has made each subsequent start helping lead the Jaguars to just four victories this season. The bitter pill of losing is something the team was prepared to swallow by starting a rookie quarterback, but they would like to see more from Gabbert, who has struggled significantly.
“Obviously, yeah, I mean he needs to improve in some areas and he’d be the first to tell you, and I’ve stated that before. He needs to continue to improve,” defensive coordinator turned interim head coach Mel Tucker said. “I think he’s made some strides, I know he’s made some strides and we have to continue to get better around him.”
The rookie quarterback excuse couldn’t spare Jack Del Rio his job as he became the first head coach fired this season on a day which the Jaguars announced the team was being sold to auto parts tycoon Shahid Khan.
The Jaguars basically entered 2011 with a lame duck coach, a rookie quarterback and nobody for him to throw to. The four-win result to this point has been predictable, and what’s worse is that nobody is sure after 13 starts whether their quarterback can succeed at the NFL level.
The three NFL franchises in Florida would love to take a “Mulligan” on the 2011 football season. The three have combined for fewer wins than the Green Bay Packers, and each will need new head coaches and major changes in personnel.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie