In a league like the NFL where every year any team can win it all, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have proven that they are right smack dab in the middle of the chase for the Lombardi Trophy. In this day and age of parity in the NFL, there are many close games that go down to the wire and the point differential is so slight.
Winning games in today’s NFL has come down to which team can make the least amount of mistakes and costly errors. Some say the Bucs have been winning ugly over the past two weeks. I say the Bucs have been winning soundly instead of ugly.
Tell me how many fumbles have the Bucs lost? How many interceptions? How many sacks has the offensive line given up? How many long plays have the Bucs been gashed for on the ground and in the air? How many big plays on special teams or costly mistakes have been committed? Generally speaking, the answer is not very many – certainly not enough to lose, which the Bucs haven’t done over the past two weeks.
As I said in last week’s article, the Bucs’ “Great Wall” of offensive linemen has once again proven impenetrable, allowing zero sacks of quarterback Josh Freeman. And when the “Great Wall” must move, it plows forward methodically, allowing bruising running back LeGarrette Blount to wear down opposing defenses.
While still hindered by a wide receiving corps that has trouble getting open and winning its one-on-one battles, Freeman has been solid in his decision-making, resulting in very few turnovers – the costliest of which was his first quarter interception in the end zone on first-and-goal from the Atlanta 4 in the first quarter.
On the defensive side of the ball, I see some trained killers blossoming. I am still convinced that defensive end Adrian Clayborn is the next coming of an All-Pro player like Clay Matthews and he is my top pick to eventually become the dominant leader of this young bunch of defensive players. Clayborn recorded his first sack and forced fumble of his young NFL career on Sunday.
Even though the Bucs faced an Atlanta offense that was near top of the league in sacks allowed with nine, I look at passion, intensity and desire, which have poked its head out in flashes with this young group. The group as a whole is starting to play with a spirit of nastiness developing that is what we like to call “Buc Ball.” After a slow start in Week 1 against Detroit and the first half of Week 2 at Minnesota, these young QB hunters have started to grow some teeth.
The Bucs may very well win the NFC South division this year, but have yet to beat a true contender. With the Vikings proving inept at 0-3 and the Falcons having only beaten an underachieving, mistake-prone Philadelphia Eagles team that is only 1-2, Tampa Bay has yet to show it has risen to the ranks of the elite teams in the NFL.
Next week’s opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, will prove no better of a challenge, although the Colts did play tough in a home loss against a strong Pittsburgh team this past weekend on Sunday Night Football.
But Monday Night Football seems to bring out the best in teams’ performances … or the worst. My belief is the Bucs will use this national stage on Monday Night Football against the Colts and take their game to the next level and grow fangs.
For many teams in the NFL, a winning streak stretch of two games provides valuable momentum, which is priceless in the NFL. As confidence levels soar and these young Bucs ride on the momentum they have created, this Monday Night Football game will give this team the opportunity to finish the first quarter of the season riding high at 3-1.
In a division that seems up for grabs with the Falcons and Panthers proving beatable and mistake-prone, leaving only the Saints to be truly worried about; these young Bucs may very well win the division playing this type of sound football. It may not be pretty or spectacular, but the Bucs are proving that slow and steady is beating the fast pizzazz-like teams. Methodically, playing through all four quarters of football and finishing when they get to the fourth quarter, the Bucs are proving to be a notch above the pack of below-average to above-average teams. With a 2011 schedule that is full of these type of middle-of-the road teams, the only games that are against upper echelon teams are against the reigning NFL champion Green Bay Packers, former Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and the upstart Houston Texans.
As this season progresses, I will enjoy watching these young Bucs continue to grow teeth. As the years go by and these players have the chance to gel by playing together and grow together, I am still convinced that with the addition of a key dominant leader-type player at the linebacker position and at the wide receiver position, these young Bucs can shape into a feared, upper echelon opponent.
Until then it will be nothing spectacular, but Tampa Bay will win with sound play. With an offense that makes few costly mistakes with a ground and pound run game; coupled with a defense that gets nastier and nastier as the season progresses, championships have been won with teams like this, as the Bucs have proven before in 2002, winning Super Bowl XXXVII. We call it “Buc Ball.”
Chidi Ahanotu was an NFL defensive end for 12 seasons, including eight with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1993-2000). Ahanotu is the fifth all-time leading sacker in Buccaneers history with 34.5 QB captures. His career-high 10 sacks in 1997 helped the Bucs make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and led to him being Tampa Bay's franchise player in 1998.
Aside from being a columnist for PewterReport.com, Ahanotu is the owner of Cigars of Soho, which is located at 212 S. Armenia Ave. in Tampa, Fla. To visit the Cigars of Soho Facebook page, click here. Cigars of Soho is open until midnight every night.
Cigars of Soho is the only South Tampa cigar lounge open after dinner to enjoy a nice cigar. Wednesday night is poker night at 9:00 p.m., and the lounge has NFL games on high definition TV on Sunday and Monday nights.