The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2022 campaign ended Monday night in a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys. It was a fitting end for a Todd Bowles team that struggled to find its footing all season.
The same issues that plagued the Bucs all campaign reared their head on Monday night. Tom Brady, behind a still-struggling offensive line, generated diddly squat until it was too late. The run game remained laughable. The defense missed tackles and allowed the Cowboys to gash them with little to no pressure. And Bowles stuck to his conservative game plan, punting anytime he could and never giving his club an edge.
In need of overhauling the operation, Bowles rejected the notion that the Bucs needed to enter a rebuild.
"Never rebuild. You always reload," he said following the loss, via the official transcript. "You feel like you have a chance to win every year. You've just got to tweak some things from a schematic standpoint all the way around -- offense, defense and special teams. Obviously, no one ever comes back with every player on the team, so we'll have some new faces in here. That's just part of the game."
Brady seems destined to depart in 2023. The Bucs could move on from offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who Bowles inherited after Bruce Arians stepped down.
There are other veteran free agents and cut candidates that the team will have to decide to bring back, including star linebacker Lavonte David, who played out the final year of his contract.
"Of course," the 32-year-old LB said when asked if he wanted to return. "I've been here 11 years. That's rare. I believe the only people to do that was Ronde [Barber] and D.B. (Derrick Brooks). So it's very rare. I'm definitely appreciative of this program and we'll just going to see where I go from here."
Brady's decision will ultimately be the determining factor in what path general manager Jason Licht takes. Tampa has been all in with the G.O.A.T. under center. It earned them a Super Bowl and three playoff appearances. If Brady departs, as expected, who will Tampa get to replace him? A veteran like Jimmy Garoppolo or Derek Carr? Give Kyle Trask a shot? Bring in a rookie?
However it shakes out, Tampa can't run this operation back for another season. It was annoyingly frustrating to watch week in and week out. Only due to the struggles of the NFC South did the Bucs make the playoffs. They were quickly ushered out by a far superior team.
After riding the high of the 2020 Super Bowl, this era of Bucs football feels over. Now it's time to see what Licht and the team brass do to start anew.