Key 1. Turnover Free
When all the discussion of how a 10-6 football team got to a potential 4-12 team there is one stat that may have made the biggest difference than anything. Forget coaching, forget youth and forget play calling. The biggest difference from 2010 to this season is turnovers. From a plus-9 in 2010 to a minus-14 in 2011 it could arguably be said the downfall and swoon of the Buccaneers is exactly that – turnover differential.
From Josh Freeman’s 19 interceptions to the team’s 14 lost fumbles, [combined with penalties], turnovers are the most telling statistic of the 2011 season. If the Buccaneers hope to have any chance of beating – or even staying competitive with the Falcons – they must protect the football.
Key 2. Find Some Swagger
Thinking you can win a football game is one thing. Believing you can and doing it is an entirely different animal and something the Buccaneers have struggled with since their last win which seems like years ago.
The psychological aspect of the game may be just as important as the physical part. And lets face it, when things start going bad this football team cannot for whatever reason respond in a positive manner. From the opening play touchdown pass against Houston earlier this year to Preston Parker’s fumbled punt turned Jacksonville touchdown a few weeks ago, time after time we have seen the Buccaneers inability to handle adversity.
Sunday at Atlanta something will certainly go wrong. But how will Tampa Bay respond? At some point you would have expected someone, anyone, to step up in a leadership role and tell this young Bucs squad to keep their chins up. It hasn’t happened yet this season, and we have no reason to expect it starts Sunday. But if Tampa Bay has any shot to upset the Falcons it must.
Key 3. Trying To Get The Feeling Again
When the Atlanta Falcons came to Raymond James Stadium earlier this season and walked off the field losers to the Buccaneers that late September evening Buccaneers fans allowed themselves to start thinking maybe last years 10-6 record wasn’t a fluke. Then two weeks later after a hard fought win against New Orleans and a share of first place in the NFC South, it appeared the season would come down to three-team battle for supremacy in the division. But since the Buccaneers celebrated that New Orleans win back on October 13 there have been no more celebrations, no more jovial locker rooms and an air of tension has set in throughout One Buccaneer Place.
If I were Raheem Morris there would have been no game film of the Falcons games over the last few weeks, but just a replay of the Falcons and Saints wins. Just film of what did Tampa Bay do to stop Michael Turner and constant video of how they stopped the potent Saints offensive attack and a swarming defense that limited Drew Brees and Co. to 20 points that afternoon.
In other words constant re-enforcement that this team at one point was 4-2 and help them remember how great it felt to walk off the field as winners. Like Jake and Elwood Blues said in 1980, “It’s time to get the band back together.”
Key 4. Win The Super Bowl
After a season where all the goals that were set in training camp are dashed and the only thing to look forward to is now the offseason, the Buccaneers should treat this like a college bowl game, their playoff game or even better yet, their Super Bowl. Make no mistake almost assuredly we will see different roster that lines up in Week 1 of the 2012 season then who takes the field Sunday afternoon and likely a completely different coaching staff. And for a few of these players it very well could be the last time they step onto the turf as an NFL player.
Walk into the Georgia Dome with an attitude and purpose and show the nation that despite the dismal season the Buccaneers still have some pride left.
Key 5. Deliver Belated Christmas Gift For Raheem
We have heard over the course of Raheem Morris’ three-year tenure as the head ball coach of the Buccaneers how much these players love Raheem Morris – even more so since the nine-game losing streak began. But if an outsider looked at film over the last two months without any knowledge of the player’s so-called affinity for Morris they most certainly would come to a different conclusion. In fact it wouldn’t be out of line for them to think just the opposite.
If the love and respect is real now is the time to put up or shut up. Morris has made his share of mistakes, no one will argue that, however has there ever been a Buccaneers coach who has went to bat for or had their player's back any more than Raheem Morris?
It will probably be a little too late to make a difference in Morris’ job but at least the players should give him the effort he deserves.
17 weeks ago when the 2011 season was about to kick off I predicted an 8-8 record. Although I thought they would take a step back in terms of victories I believed this would be an overall better team than the 2010 squad. I’m not sure I have been anymore wrong in anything I’ve believed in since I used to think that wrestling was real. The problems that plagued the Buccaneers in 2011 are numerous just as the possible solutions in trying to solve them in 2012 are. What happens now? Hang on Bucs fans. The only thing we at PewterReport.com know for sure is it will be a crazy next few months.
Mark Cook: Falcons 38-14
Scott Reynolds: Falcons 33-17