I mean, where do we even start?

If the Week 6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was classified as “bad”, then what on earth do we classify the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ 21-3 loss to the once-was 1-5 Carolina Panthers?

A sheer disaster. Utter disappointment. A masterclass in how to fail at football’s highest level.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady talked about looking in the mirror after the loss to the Steelers.

One can only imagine the horrors this team sees when it ganders into the mirror Sunday evening.

If you can’t tell, I’m still trying to figure out where to start when it comes to talking about what in the hell went wrong against the Panthers on Sunday.

But I think I finally have the words ready to go. I think.

I’m about as unsure as Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich on 4th and short.

But here we go.

The 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a rattled team.

Whether it be wide receiver Mike Evans dropping one of the most wide-open touchdowns of all-time, Brady overthrowing a wide-open Evans a few plays later, an illegal formation penalty that took away a first down and instead created a 3rd and 8, a defensive collapse in the waning minutes of the first half…

Do you see where I’m going with this?

In 2022, the Buccaneers shrink in the spotlight instead of standing tall. There’s no better example than the team failing to get one yard in three tries. Or the fact they went 2-for-12 on third down (including seven straight fails over the course to end the game) or that they went 1-for-3 on fourth down.

Or 0-for-1 in their only trip inside the red zone and their only goal-to-go situation, which ended with the pitiful 27-yard field goal from Ryan Succop.

Don’t forget the defense, either. Sure, the unit is receiving zero help from the offense. But at the same time, this defense has failed to get off the field against the likes of Marcus Mariota, Mitch Trubisky, and P.J. Walker over the last three weeks.

They haven’t recorded a takeaway since Week 4 when Sean Murphy-Bunting, of all defenders, picked off Patrick Mahomes. And, there’s been just three recorded sacks over the last two weeks after starting the season with 19.0 over the first five games.

Bowles sees it, too.

“Toughness,” was his response when asked what needs to be changed mentally in order to lead to better execution. “We gotta have mental toughness and mental fortitude. The older guys gotta prove they can still play [and] the younger guys gotta prove they belong.

“And the coaches gotta get better every day. That’s really it: mental toughness.”

“We’re just not making plays when we need to make them and we gotta do it if we want to win,” Evans said after the game.

The team takes one step forward and then four steps back. They aren’t consistent enough to sustain long drives and march down the field. At the same time, they don’t execute well enough to hit the big plays the offense thrives on.

“We’re plenty capable of making plays. We’re just not making them consistently enough to score points,” Brady told reporters after the game. “[We] make a big play, [we] make a bad play. Make a big play, make a bad play.

“In football, that’s not good enough. You just can’t play like that.”

It makes zero sense for this team to have this mindset. A lot of the Super Bowl-winning core is still around and a lot of these guys are established veterans.

But when you hear them talk, it doesn’t sound that way. Whether it’s linebacker Devin White saying the team is bored or wideout Russell Gage saying the team is dead even when making plays – it’s clear something has changed this team in 2022.

The resiliency isn’t there like we’ve seen in the playoff comeback against the Rams or the eight-game winning streak that culminated in the Buccaneers’ first Super Bowl win in nearly 20 years.

That fire is missing. The counterpunch has gone soft.

And Evans’ postgame comments are plenty enough to prove this.

“No play is the sole reason you lose, but that was definitely the biggest reason that I saw the light go out of us,” said Evans. “It took me awhile to get back playing. We’re taught to just play the next play, but it was tough.

“[I was] wide-open. If I’m one of the best in the game, I’ve gotta catch it.”

And it’s exactly why the Buccaneers are 3-4.

Something has to change. But when a team has this many issues at not just the foundation, but throughout the entire structure, it’s hard to have hope that things will be -or even can be- fixed.

“We’re not playing well as individuals. We’re not playing well as a team. We’re not coaching it well,” said Bowles. “[It’s] all the way around … As a result, we have to wear this on our sleeve. They’ve gotta be grown men. We’re going to see what we’re made of [and] how many people can handle adversity.

“It’s about as dark as it’s going to be, right now.”

Featured image via Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports