In every meaningful NFL game played this past weekend, the phrase “the best teams win in December” was uttered more than once. It’s as true a statement as you’ll find in sports. In any sport, the best teams are the ones who win when the pressure is at its highest.
No matter how good a team or player may be in November, when the calendar turns to December the best teams and best players play their best football. This has been a major flaw of Cowboys QB Tony Romo.
Take a look at the best teams in the NFL year after year. What do they have in common? They all know how to win games in December.
From 2011 to the present, here are results from the best teams in the NFL during December/January:
49ers : 8-3
Patriots: 10-1 (only loss came to the 49ers in 2012)
Broncos: 8-3 (all 3 losses came in 2011 with Tim Tebow at QB)
These are the teams you expect to be in the postseason each year because these are the teams with coaching staffs that know how to win big games when they matter most.
During this same time frame, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a lousy 1-10, with their lone win coming against the Atlanta Falcons at the end of the 2012 season, a time when the Falcons had nothing to gain or lose from the result of that game.
The month of December has been a cold one for this Bucs organization and started out cold again this year with a 27-6 defeat against the division rival Carolina Panthers.
“I’m disappointed, as I told the team, disappointed in all of us – coaches, players – disappointed in the opportunity,” Schiano said on Monday. “It was a good football team we played, one that’s been able to stay relatively healthy with their key guys and I thought are playing at a high level right now. Yet I thought there was plenty of opportunities for us – especially early in the game – to kind of set the course of the game where we’d have a chance to make it a fourth quarter game and we didn’t take advantage of it and then it wasn’t a fourth quarter game.”
In previous games against the Dolphins and Falcons, Greg Schiano was extremely creative with fake punts, onside kicks, etc…, creating his own opportunities for his team.
In the Bucs last two games against the Lions and Panthers, Greg Schiano’s creativity faded away.
“I told you we had stuff in the plan and sometimes that can light a fire to your football team and in retrospect I wish I would of stepped in and said ‘Let’s do it now.’ but I didn’t. There were a couple of opportunities where I was close to doing it, but I didn’t and it wasn’t an apprehension or lack of confidence, because I had all the confidence in the world in our guys, I just didn’t think the timing was right. It’s been my experience when you force that stuff it doesn’t really work that well. I just never came to run it but I do think that those things do sometimes energize your team.”
Was Greg Schiano creative in games against the Dolphins and Falcons because he had nothing to lose at 0-8 and 1-8 on the season?
Does Greg Schiano coach differently when the pressure starts to mount?
While Schiano’s record in the NFL during December and January is still a small sample size at just 1-5, the Buccaneers have been outscored in these games 167-85.
Schiano’s record in regular season collegiate games at Rutgers during November and December is not much better.
Schiano took over a Rutgers program that was in shambles before he arrived, but even after he had built “his” program with “Schiano Men,” his record during the most crucial months of the season was far from impressive.
Eliminating his 1st season at Rutgers (building a program from the bottom is tough) and Bowl games (because of their odd circumstances and because they are in the POSTseason), Schiano’s record from 2002-2011 at Rutgers in regular season games during November and December was 15-24, which included losing 5 straight games to end the 2010 season and failing to make a bowl game. In a smaller sample size, Schiano was a pedestrian 14-14 from 2005-2011 in these late regular season games.
Big East Football enthusiasts will wonder why the Bowl wins for Schiano are not included here, but they forget that we don’t know a lot about postseason football around here, so wins against UCF in the St. Pete Bowl and Ball St. in the International Bowl don’t really hurt or help the argument here.
We’re talking about playing the best football late in your team’s regular season to propel you to greatness. Losing to UCONN or Syracuse does not constitute greatness, both of which happened multiple years.
Many Bucs fans and media members were thrilled with the Buccaneers recent 3-game win streak and might have fallen victim to the moment, but I still feel Schiano and the Bucs need to do much more to ensure his return in 2014. While some feel as though five wins might be enough to justify a Schiano return in 2014, for some fans, including myself, that might be pushing it. However, if Schiano ended this season with a 6-10 record, I believe that would be enough for him to return to the Bucs in 2014 because one of those wins would have to come against the 49ers at home or the Saints on the road. A 6-10 record would also ensure that the Bucs would go 3-1 to end the season, proving they can win in December.
Fans and media members might have also fallen victim to the “players haven’t given up” garbage. Guess what? The players are never supposed to give up; that’s what made Raheem Morris’ last year so unbearable. These are millionaires playing a game. They should never give up and quit – if they have any genuine pride or valuable character.
Then there’s this from Bucs DE Adrian Clayborn after this past Sunday’s loss to the Panthers:
“After watching the film we know why we lost, we wasn’t playing with that much passion on every play,” Clayborn said. “And we wasn’t gang tackling and we wasn’t doing the stuff that we’d been doing the past three weeks to win the game.”
I’m sorry, you weren’t playing with that much passion? Well, we’ll see if they find that passion during the final 4 games of this extremely long season.
Keep a close eye on what happens this Sunday as the Buffalo Bills come into town. If the Bucs are out-played and lose at home against the 4-8 Bills, Schiano will need a lot of help in the final 3 games to keep his job, which might entice him to use some of that creativity he has kept in his back pocket the past few weeks.