Jacksonville and Tampa Bay are halfway to history — and not the kind anyone wants to celebrate, chronicle or recall.
Winless through eight games, the Jaguars and Buccaneers could join the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16) and the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) as the only winless teams in NFL history.
It’s not a spot either Florida franchise thought it would be in when the season began two months ago.
The Bucs finished 7-9 in 2012, and despite losing five of their final six games, were widely expected to show improvement in coach Greg Schiano’s second year. They spent more than $130 million on cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson.
The Jags were coming off the worst season in the franchise’s 18 years, a 2-14 debacle the led to the firing of general manager Gene Smith and coach Mike Mularkey. Under new GM Dave Caldwell and first-year coach Gus Bradley, it was a clear rebuilding project in Jacksonville. Nonetheless, the Jaguars figured things couldn’t possibly get any worse.
Now, at the midway point of the season, the teams located about 175 miles apart are making headlines and highlights as they approach history one loss at a time.
“Things happen for a reason, so obviously going 0-8 happened,” Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. “But you have to learn from that. We’re not going to run away from anything. That happened, and we have to face it head on.”
There’s still plenty of football remaining, with both teams getting eight more chances to avoid ending up in an elusive club that would make them a punch line for a lifetime.
But until one of them notches that first victory, the question lingers: Who has the best shot at going 0-16?
WHY THE BUCS: Their locker room could become as messy as a MRSA infection. Schiano botched quarterback Josh Freeman’s benching, getting accused of rigging the captains vote and then of releasing confidential information about Freeman being in the league’s substance-abuse program. Eventually, players might give up on Schiano, who is widely perceived as just another college coach in over his head since leaving Rutgers to take over a team that lost its final 10 games in 2011. The Bucs have dropped 13 of 14 dating to last season.
WHY THE JAGS: They have been bad — really bad. Jacksonville is the first team since the 1984 Houston Oilers to lose its first eight games by double digits, a stunning display of ineptitude on both side of the ball. The Jaguars can, however, point to having the league’s toughest schedule so far. They played Kansas City, Seattle, Indianapolis, Denver and San Francisco — teams at or near the top of every power poll. There may be hope, though. Jacksonville’s next seven games are against teams currently .500 or worse.
WHY THE BUCS: They can’t seem to win close games. Tampa Bay has led in the fourth quarter four times, dropping all four in final 89 seconds of regulation or overtime. The Bucs led 21-0 at Seattle — one of the toughest places for visiting teams — last week before fading down the stretch. “At times, we’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, which is really frustrating,” said Schiano, whose team is 0-7 in games decided by three points or less during his tenure.
WHY THE JAGS: They won’t have their best offensive player for the rest of the season. Receiver Justin Blackmon’s latest violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy landed him an indefinite suspension. Despite his troubles, countless roster moves and the surprising trade of left tackle Eugene Monroe, the Jaguars have a cohesive locker room. Even Jones-Drew, who’s in the final year of his contract, appears fully vested in the new regime. “What else can you be?” Jones-Drew said. “It’s a choice. You could be moping around and down if you want, but that’s not going to solve anything.”
WHY THE BUCS: They have a rookie quarterback. Although third-round draft pick Mike Glennon set NFL rookie records for the most completions and attempts over his first four starts, he’s now 0-5, has been sacked 13 times and has failed to mount a game-winning drive. Glennon has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,165 yards, with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also gotten little help from the team’s sputtering ground game. “The guy can make every throw,” receiver Vincent Jackson said. “He is very decisive. He puts balls in places, usually where you can make a play on it. If it’s not catchable, he’s going to throw it away. He’s not going to take a lot of chances. That just helps us as an offense when we’re taking care of the football.”
WHY THE JAGS: They have the worst quarterback situation in the league. The Jags already benched former first-round draft pick Blaine Gabbert in favor of backup Chad Henne. Together, they have four TD passes and 12 INTs, and have been sacked a whopping 28 times. Gabbert’s struggles under pressure and his inability to stay healthy prompted the Jaguars to move on after he played just three games this season. No matter what happens the rest of the way, Jacksonville is surely to draft another quarterback in April — likely with one of the first few picks.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org