Sunday’s 15-10 win over the New York Jets was important for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It might not end up being all that important for this season, and, in fact, it might end up giving them a worse draft pick when it’s all said and done. But, regardless of that, I think it was important – for a long rooted reason.
On the first “Victory Monday” in over a month, Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter took to the podium for his scheduled press conference in a little better of a mood – as one would expect. Koetter’s main talking points were the changes that resulted in the Bucs finally getting a win for the first time in six weeks. He mentioned rookies Chris Godwin and Kendell Beckwith stepping up, he talked about some of the defensive adjustments the team made, and even referenced a more balanced offense, though one that still needs work.
But, what the real takeaway from Koetter’s press conference were his answers on one specific question.
The question was about what he said to the team this week that may have been different than weeks prior. There was no doubt that the team looked like it was more relaxed, stress-wise, while at the same time playing with more effort than they had been. Koetter answered the question by saying that he does change what he says to the guys a little bit, but what he says are just words; it’s more about how they’re received, and that sometimes in order for his message to be received, it can’t come from just him.
“I still think that the best leadership is internally from the players,” Koetter said. “We definitely played harder and faster this game.”
That part of his quote, which was just a section of a larger quote, is worthy of attention. He made sure to mention player leadership and then immediately said that the team played harder and faster this week. Did something with the players happen recently?
After Koetter’s press conference, the locker room was opened to the media for a brief period of time like it always is. There weren’t many Bucs players in there on Monday, as is the case for most Mondays – win or lose. But, there was one player that all the reporters wanted to talk to who was there, and that was defensive tackle Chris Baker.
Baker was asked basically the same question Koetter was with focus leading up to the game and what might have been different. Baker told us that earlier in the week, the players got together, just them, and had a meeting among one another. He said that their message was about accountability, and that ultimately it was up to them to go out and make plays. Baker said the message was about ownership and that it was the players who had to own their losses, and that it would be them who could own wins and perhaps a season-saving turnaround, too.
The talk behind closed doors among the players is likely what sparked their stellar defensive play on Sunday and also what likely moved normally soft spoken players like Lavonte David and DeSean Jackson to speak up before and after the game to give the team their thoughts and motivation.
Hearing all of that, from Koetter, Baker, Jackson, David and even the shouting match with Kwon Alexander and Robert Ayers on the sideline, all of that clicked as to why such a talented team got a win on Sunday. But, after that realization, it was natural to ask a follow up question.
Why did it take this long?
Why did it take this long for it all to click? Why did it take this long for a group of rookies, long-time Bucs and newly signed vets to slap each other in the face after five straight losses? Why didn’t these player-only talks of coming together, having focus and owning what you put out on the field happen sooner?
Here’s why in one word: culture.
The “culture of losing” has been referenced before when referencing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, especially their woes from this season, and it’s true; it’s real.
This is one of the least winningest franchises in the NFL. They have even been called the Cleveland Browns of the NFC not too long ago. If you take out the seven years around their Super Bowl run, this franchise’s history looks awful – Cleveland-like.
It doesn’t always have to be, but it always seems to be. In a league where we watch teams and franchise fire coaches, fire GMs, change owners, change cities and have quicker turnaround than the Buccaneers seem to do every time we think they’re “hitting the reset button,” you’re left asking yourself how it can be so.
You know why it took this long for the players to snap into shape? You know why no one on the coaching staff could seem to stop the slide? You know why instead of snapping into shape, getting in people’s face and getting down to change players just hoped things would get better?
You think the Bucs’ early-season losing streak (or even just certain struggles) would have lasted this long in New England or Pittsburgh or Denver or Seattle, if they were this talented? No.
You think any of those teams would have relished in a 9-7 season that missed the playoff as if they’d accomplishing something like this roster clearly did? No.
You think any of those teams would have just assumed the team would get better like this team did in the offseason and preseason? No.
All of those teams I named have their struggles, but all of them actively fight to not only not be losers, but to not be mediocre; to get better and to not settle. It’s not just about the record, though that matters. It’s about the mindset of being on one of those franchises. It’s about going there and knowing you have to play your best or they won’t put up with you. No one goes to those cities to be losers.
That’s why their records are what they are. It starts with a mindset within the players. Knowing that coaches, quarterbacks and even GMs can come and go and those franchises still have the history they do, that tells you it’s a culture.
Tampa Bay has a history of settling, of underachieving, of expectedly being let-downs. Don’t believe it? Ask any fan. But, what happened in the locker room last week without Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, that meant something. That part is important for those two as well. It was time to sit back and watch the fire burn within players until it overflowed.
Winston has never been to the playoffs; neither has Evans. It had to come from the guys who have been that were pissed off that it wasn’t happening for them again. More so than a win, hearing those words from Baker and knowing how the team responded could make this team really become something over the next few seasons. It might not come this year, but you better believe that if this attitude from the players sticks, maybe it can make them into a team worthy of the playoffs on the field, not just in the offseason and in the media predictions.
Maybe it can even change the culture.