Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

Sikkema’s Story of the Week

The month of December is an exciting time in the NFL calendar, and if we’re being honest, this is where regular season legends are truly remembered. How teams finish down the stretch, whether that’s due to incredible player performances or coaching changes that have finally come together throughout a season, can catapult them into the month of January with good momentum.

Most of the time – or “ideally”, as I should say – you would be talking about the playoffs when referencing momentum. We know that sometimes it’s not always the best, but rather, the hottest teams that hoists the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year. How teams play in December goes a long way into becoming one of those teams “you just don’t want to run into” once the playoffs start.

But here in Tampa Bay, the momentum gained in December hasn’t correlated to anything done in the playoffs in a long time. This franchise hasn’t made the postseason since 2007, so any type of positive streak down the stretch has simply been used as an offseason morale boost.

The Buccaneers won’t be ending their playoff drought this season, as they were eliminated from playoff contention this past Sunday. Though their 6-7 record is identical to that of the Eagles and Cowboys, teams that have 53 and 47 percent playoff chances, respectively, as well as still control their own destiny, the Bucs got the short end of the stick with the division they’re in and are already mathematically eliminated.

But this team wasn’t eliminated due to a loss. This past Sunday wasn’t a dropped game that sent their hopes and dreams packing. In fact, it was the opposite. After being down 10 points twice and down 14 points once throughout the contest against the Indianapolis Colts, the young, resilient Buccaneers never said die and were able to capture a thrilling 38-35 victory in Raymond James Stadium.

Unfortunately, due to how the math worked out, when the Minnesota Vikings also defeated the Detroit Lions that day, the Bucs no longer had a shot at the postseason. When this happens, as has been the case for many, many years now, the thought process from the fan base is normally something to the tune of “well, since we can’t make the playoffs anymore we might as well lose every game from here on out to get a better draft pick.”

Such a train of thought is logical. The higher you pick in the draft, the better chance you have at getting an impact player. I’m a big draft guy. I’m someone who truly believes you build your franchise through the draft. This is how you acquire the right difference makers to not only obtain success but open your window to win. And that is why I can’t believe what I’m about to say, but it’s something I wholeheartedly agree is the right approach for this team.

Forget the draft. Go win games.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and WR Breshad Perriman
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and WR Breshad Perriman – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

4-12, 6-10, 9-7, 5-11, 5-11. Those are the records the Bucs have finished with over the last few years. Those records have earned them a few Top 10 selections, a lot of Top 100 picks. But you know what else it created? A losing culture.

Whether it’s been close finishes, blow out losses, or last-quarter games where the Bucs find a new way to rip your heart out, this team has had no idea how to win for the better part of a decade. At various times, I thought it was due to the wrong head coach being in charge or the wrong quarterback or the wrong collection of talent. A “culture of losing” isn’t real, right? It’s just a label.

I was wrong. It is real.

In the NFL, not only do you have to learn your position at the highest level, the positions of others you go up against, how to gel with your teammates, and how to carry yourself on and off the field as a pro, you also have to learn how to win – maybe more importantly how not to lose. A lot of these guys come from college football programs where going 9-3 might be seen as a bad year. For some of these big-time players, all they knew in college was high success. They played one, maybe two big games a year. If they came out early, that’s five big games in their college career, and maybe they only even played in a couple. The rest were against inferior teams. For a lot of these guys, they came from winning. Not to say they didn’t work for it back then, but working for wins with your body and your skill and working for them in your mind are different things.

The Bucs have had talent to win over the years, but they’ve never had the mindset to. Now they might, or at least they’re getting there. As winners of four of their last five, the future of this franchise would be better served finding out just how much of a winning mindset they’ve creating as opposed to losing games for a better spot in the draft.

Normally I don’t have this type of thought process. I think negative momentum is more real than positive momentum when it comes to the offseason staring in January. When you lose a bunch of games down the stretch, it can lead to changes at coaching positions, in the front office, at quarterback or throughout the roster. When you reel down the stretch, that negative momentum can create those kinds of impactful moves (in bad ways). On the flip side, I tend to think that, when it doesn’t amount to playing extra postseason games immediately following the regular season, a win streak or hot month of December doesn’t exactly mean anything for football games that will be played seven months later.

But for this team it’s not just about looking at these final three games in a vacuum with a bottom line. It’s about instilling confidence and culture into these young players.

Bucs HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: Getty Images

“When we finished that season [in Arizona] beating Seattle, who were division champs, it led into a hell of an offseason,” Arians said. “For us to possibly win four in a row, then five in a row against a real good Houston team, and then it’s going to be a struggle in Detroit this week with the number of injuries we’ve got, but that’s building blocks. The culture is set because the other guys aren’t accepting it anymore. They don’t accept losing anymore. That’s kind of what the guys stood up and said in the locker room. I didn’t have to say much. We ain’t accepting this [stuff] anymore. You know it’s getting across.”

In 1996, under head coach Tony Dungy in his first year with the team, the Bucs started the season 1-8. They went on to finish out the year 5-2 in their last seven games. That next season they broke a 14-year playoff drought with a 10-6 record, starting the season 5-0. That gave way to the Buccaneers turning a page, making the playoffs five of the next six seasons, and in the final one they found themselves at the top of the mountain as world champions.

For the longest time, back then and even now, losing and Tampa Bay went hand-in-hand. At 6-7, one game below .500, I suppose I have to say it still does. If you play in new England, you expect to win. If you play in Pittsburgh, you expect to win. If you play in New Orleans, you expect to win. That expectation hasn’t been present in Tampa Bay for a long time.

At the beginning of the season I wrote that 2019, whatever the final record was going to be, had to be about a changing of the tides. This team still has to prove they can beat the good teams, but at this point winning is winning. I’m not saying winning these last three games will guarantee a Super Bowl down the road like it did with Dungy and then Gruden. But in order to really change tide you need waves — you need wins.

So when it comes to these last three games, especially knowing that even losing out won’t get them a high Top 10 selection, you can keep the strategy of a best potential draft pick.

Win as many games as you can, shed the losing culture, and remember that feeling and what it took to achieve it going into what is hopefully a window to success starting in 2020.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]
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Jolly Bucs Fan

Just win baby

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bucballer

Of course wins! We’ve had high picks before…the wins r scarce! Just win! Maybe winning out will make expected Buc free agents want to resign here because they sense something good beginning to happen! Go Bucs!

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The Wall

We are developing a culture of “never give up” winning and it is awesome. Let’s go for 9-7.

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cbbucfan

That second interception by Darius Leonard: watching that play, it makes me wonder if he was supposed to continue rushing the quarterback once he engages the center instead of breaking off into coverage. It looks like he anticipates the hot route over the middle of the field against that blitz, so he drops back into coverage, and gets the interception. Something he probably picked up during film study. In any event, that was an all-pro caliber play by Leonard. Now, as for the premise of the column, I totally agree. This franchise has become accustomed to losing and things not… Read more »

jackpc1

Trevor, I agree. Unless you are pitifully bad and tanking for a top 5 pick, past drafts have proven value can be found in the middle and later selections of the first round and later rounds, particularly in offensive and defensive linemen. Let’s not forget Lamar Jackson was the 32nd pick (first round), Russell Wilson was the 75th pick (third round), and infamously Tom Brady was the 199th pick (sixth round). The challenge is finding that gem. Something that Bucs have not been very successful over the past years.

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buddah

Doesn’t Godwin count as one of those gems?

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Dman

Good Cover 3, Trevor. Appreciate you putting this out there that we need to win – period. There are great players to be had in the draft and free agency. But the team on the field today needs to win now!

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FLBoy84

Normally a tank proponent at this stage of the season, but since we’d be outside the top 10 anyway, agree that wins are the preferred result these last few weeks.

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wish-in-one-hand

This year i was seeing a team that could be good and that just wouldn’t be this year. The roller coaster of a start had me thinking the season is done @ 2-6. The last 5 games have given us glimpses of what this team is supposed to be despite the mistakes, miscues, penalties, and injuries. I have to say this last games a few times i changed the channel saying “damn, same old story!” but i kept coming back. I will always be a fan of this team so i have hope which is what made me keep flipping… Read more »

Charlie

-runs Herm Edward’s presser clip- “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!”

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Pick6

yes – a good way to guarantee the Bucs are losers next year is to embrace losing this year. I don’t want any part of playing for draft picks, something we have sadly rooted for 7 or 9 of our last 9 seasons

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Pick6

*7 or 8 of our last 9 seasons

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tog

The problem is “momentum” doesn’t carry over after the season.

There’s no statistical evidence that ending a season strong carries over.

Just look at the 2016 Bucs or 2018 Browns. There are tons of bad teams that go on a late winning streak and fail to carry over.

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gcolerick

I don’t care about a ton of teams, I care about the Bucs. Tony Dungy started out his coaching career with the Bucs with a one and eight record for his first nine games and then went five and two during the last seven. It took the biggest part of that season for him to get that team to start believing in themselves but once that belief was established we were playoff bound for most of the next decade. If you have any buccaneer blood running through your veins, you have to believe Coach Arians is doing his best to… Read more »

tog

So because of this one instance where Dungy went on a run then had success the next season, that proves momentum?

Yes, teams can improve. But momentum between seasons isn’t a thing. Why didn’t it work for Koetter or the Browns last season?

The thing is, the Bucs schedule is WAY easier. Are the Bucs better, or are they just playing bad teams?

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gcolerick

I don’t believe the Bucs schedule was way easier. They had a horrendous schedule this year. On the road for seven weeks in a row and I don’t think the Colts and the Rams are bad teams nor are the Saints and Seahawks. Those last two teams beat us but we played them damn tough and a couple of plays here and there and those could have been wins as well. That is why it is important to win out and establish a culture of winning and having these guys believe in themselves. Once that happens we will start winning… Read more »

buddah

Yes, the schedule is a bit easier down the stretch, but the Buccaneers did not have overall an easy schedule. Sagarin rates the schedule to date 14th out of 32 teams and this doesn’t even account for the never before 7 weeks between home games. The Buccaneers did beat the Rams and they are a winning team that was in the super bowl and they played toe-to-toe with Tennessee and Seattle both teams that are likely to be in the playoffs. No excuses, though. We don’t deserve to be in the playoffs, but the improvement over the course of the… Read more »

tog

Yeah, there’s an argument to be made that the culture is changing. I’m personally skeptical, but that is an argument. I’m saying though that MOMENTUM doesn’t exist, especially season to season. Maybe the culture is changing, although if that just happened with wins we’d see that in the data (and we don’t). As for the schedule, the overall schedule wasn’t easy (it also wasn’t hard). Past schedule was 18th hardest by FootballOutsiders. But the future schedule per FO is EASY – 6th easiest in fact. And its been easy. And yes, the Bucs played some good teams close. But ALMOST… Read more »

BUC-ASS-BOB

There is no way to gauge your performance when all teams on rear of the schedule are out of the playoffs
Bucs will beat lions and falcons because those team looking for better draft. Texans will play hard and will tell truth about this team

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buddah

Idiotic. No one game tells the truth about any team. Houston beat New England decisively then lost to Denver i a blowout. Does that make Denver a better team than both Houston and New England?

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chefboho

Careful Buddha, rational thinking with only confuse him. Break it down into pictures and colors. 👍🏼

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Twistedwires

I’m an amateur bike racer. (There is a point to this, I promise.) I race my bicycle on the weekends. I do train for it all year round, and I take it seriously with my teammates. However, I’m no pro by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not even that good. I’m a middle of the pack racer in truth. But no matter how many times I have poor finishes in races, I still push hard for the best finish I can muster in each race. I didn’t used to do that. When I first started, if I wasn’t in… Read more »

e

PR needs to update the standings on the right side of the page. Bucs in second place sounds pretty damn good. Forget the draft position. I hope Jameis shows enough that he’s gonna be the guy. If he is, Cam is gone from the division next year and we have two other QBs on the downslope. This is the Bucs time with a 6th year QB. I hope there is OL help at the top of the draft next year for the Bucs. When Jameis has time, he’s pretty damn good. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet.… Read more »

Teddy

What’s refreshing to me after the past 10+ years of incompetent and inconsistent play is how much the confidence is oozing out from the team. Watching it on TV, it’s almost palpable. Last time I saw any aspect of that was during the one Yungry year from Raheem Morris when they went 10-6, and at that point it felt more like naivety than professional confidence. This has a very different feel. The next three games should be a lot of fun!

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BigSombrero

The Bucs will likely draft 3 players in the top 100. All 100 come with risk, upside, and NFL inexperience. Constantly drafting in the top 10 is a hollow prize that rarely turns franchises around.

Good organizations develop a culture of comraderie, accoutability, and trust and are able to develop players more effectively, regardless of when they are drafted or signed. BA is leading the way and I just hope the Bucs can keep Bowles and Leftwich around in addition to Winston, Barrett, Suh, Nassib, Nacho, and JPP.

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gcolerick

Well said Sombrero

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matador

Good organizations are established with and by talented people. Licht’s record on the field, in the draft and in FA says he is not one. The Glazer sons who inherited the team have a record that suggests the same. That leaves us with Arians who has done some good things over the course of his career but has largely outsourced the offense and defense to unproven coordinators. In my opinion it’s a little premature to assume they’ll be more successful here than they were previously with other teams. Can’t get rid of Licht so best chance is ‘promoting ‘ him… Read more »

BigSombrero

I think OL is one of Licht’s best drafted groups and I think this draft will be an OL/RB draft. He has drafted Marpet, D.Smith, and Cappa in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. He hasn’t missed with early round linemen. And no matter what you think of Smith play, he has been an ironman and great teammate. Regarding misses like Benenoch or others, I would ask which other organization regularly hits on 5th round (or later) draftees. I think there is logic in the plan and I like how this team is competing. As the secondary gets better, this team… Read more »

Die Hard

Agreed. Just win out, finish 9-7 and figure out what the next steps are in the off season. Successful teams figure out how to get good players without picking in the Top 5 every single year. Hopefully Licht will lean heavily on BA and his staff to figure out what is needed to get to the next level since he hasn’t been able to do so on his own.

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SenileSenior

There were only three teams really blown out if you go by the scores  yesterday. 
Falcons 40, Panthers 20
Vikings 20, Lions (3-9-1) 7
Chargers 45, Jaguars (4-9) 10   

Most teams are playing better at the end of the season than at the beginning.  The Colts and the Bucs fought hard and gave it their best shots.    Neither team quit.  That is winning culture also.   

In BA We Trust!
________________
Go Bucs!!! Beat the Lions!

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MCBRICKEL

A winning culture is vital to our young teams future success, whether momentum carries from year to year; or not. Culture beats draft position and maybe even talent all day long. What kind of culture do you imagine that the teams that win year after year have. They hate losing ever. Tanking is for losers and hopefully our team is as tired of losing as the fans are.

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AlbJack65

Good article Trevor. I’ve been beating that same drum about winning every game we can on here.

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Austin Williams

Well, all of my points have pretty much been covered in these comments, so I am glad to see that! Thanks for the Article Trevor, the point needed to be made. A winning culture ESPECIALLY for such a young team is more important than a top 10 pick. We will still be in position to draft a couple of elite OL in the first 2 days of this draft specifically (ton of OL talent this year!)!. Winston will get a 3-5 year deal and be damn good with a growing secondary (and new FS from FA or draft preferably). Establish… Read more »

SenileSenior

Tog, you ask why it did not work for Koetter last year!  You are missing an important point that is the thrust of Trevor’s article. Culture change is important!  Attitude is essential to building a winning culture.  It is essential for consistent winning from year to year.  You have to have the expectation of winning carry over from the previous year(s). Morris, Schiano, Smith and Koetter all failed in that regard.  They all or at least some of them have to have been considered qualified as coaches in a general sense or they would not have been given the job as head coaches. Intangibles… Read more »

buddah

Coaching matters! Compare the Red Zone stats of Winston last year and this year. He has the third most TDs from insied the 20 and also from inside the 10. Last year we were awful in the Red Zone. Look at the improvement in the secondary and at linebacker and in rushing defense. This team has improved radically in one year. “We are what our record says we are.” Our final record this year will be better by somewhere between 2 and 4 wins. That’s progress. Will it be sustained? None of us know. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00… Read more »

Keith F

I’m just so happy people are focusing on the Bucs winning streak and more importantly how well the Bucs are playing since the bye week. The last 7 games: Titans: we should won on the road (who are playing light outs) Seahawks: we should have won on the road. Cardinals: Won Saints: One of the best teams Falcons: Won handily when they were hot. C’mon we know they are good. Jags: Dominated Win. Colts: Great win against a team who had a lot to play for. I’m always the guy who stops going to the games once we are out… Read more »

twspin

Bucs still got a shot at finishing 8-8 like many of us predicted. I just pray Arians can stiil fix our Cardiac Kid (Jameis) for next season.

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tnew

Koetter gave the team a built in excuse to loose. All Winston had to do was turn the ball over once and that was the ENTIRE reason for the loss. When you prepare mentally all week long with the thought…no turnovers, no turnovers, no turnovers, when a turnover happens the game is over. Bruce says… Turnovers are one thing but winning is more important. Turnovers are a factor but they aren’t the reason you lose. You lose because the other team scores more. The Bucs aren’t forced by rule to allow a 46 yard TD pass just because Winston throws… Read more »

ScottC543

The correct answer is KICK ASS. Every time you walk onto the field. Period.

When that’s the attitude, good things happen.

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Pete Wood

Trevor,
Your email doesn’t work. It keeps bouncing back to me.

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Alaskabuc

So the media has determined that the Bucs are officially eliminated from the playoffs due to the Vikings win on Sunday. I’m assuming because the Vikings could finish 9-7 and will still have a better conference record than the Bucs 6-6. But what if LA ties the Vikings at 9-7, and the Bucs win out at 9-7 for a 3 way tie. LA and Min will have identical 7-5 conference records, but the Bucs beat LA head to head. So what’s the next level to decide who gets in?

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fredster

Bucs are heading in right direction imo. I’ve seen the subtle mindset and execution changes and first time in over decade I’ve felt they were close. All sudden winning 4 out 5. Still some turnovers and not perfect but why are they winning now instead of finding ways to lose? Culture change and Arians! They are improving and so is Winston despite the int. Numbers. I know the haters only gonna quote int.’s. Same idiots always saying it’s about winning and he loses. Stupid since team sport but also now same idiots are like well he’s winning but int’s are… Read more »

fredster

I also do believe Arians has a very good sense of who has a loser mindset and who hates to lose. It’s why Winston will be here next year and it’s why he let stupid soft McCoy walk and showed Jackass Hargreaves the door. Love the guy. Still not 100% sole on Leftwhich though. Lol.

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Horse

Now that we know about the injuries to Winston and to Evans, I’m going to have to pull my enthusiasm back just a little bit.
I believe we will win one out of three for sure; two out of three would be really good; 3 out of 3 would just be great!

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drdneast

So DumbAssBob finally rears his ugly troll like self. Where ya been DumbAss, it’s been great around here without your negative piehole. Why don’t you crawl back under your rock and STFU. No one wants your negative ass here. But of course that is the pleasure you get out of being here isn’t it. What a sad pathetic life. There are no East Carolina States or FIU’s in the NFL. Most of the teams, by and large are pretty well matched up and the league is designed to make it that way. You look at Detrot’s record and say those… Read more »

drdneast

I knew there was something about that first INT i didn’t like and the firt time I saw your replay I picked up on it immediately. Despite having a RB in the backfield, there wwas no play action to freeze those LB’s for the split second Winston needed to drop the ball in beteen the LB and DB. Not only that the Bucs had just run for 10 yards on the preceeding play. I don’t know who designed that play but if they don’t want to see any more similar INT’s like that in the future, they should incorporate the… Read more »

Captain Sly

Great point drdneast, Leftwich’s playcalling has contributed to Winston’s turnovers. Yes the culture is changing but let’s not kid ourselves, you’re not winning many games turning the ball over 4 times with a pick 6. Case in point was the first game of the season against the 49ers, who we now know is a good football team. The turnovers in that game are what sunk any chance we had at winning…. So the point being is that Winston has to do a better job of protecting the football, but also Leftwich has to do a better job of designing plays… Read more »

Pitts

I’ve been a Bucs fan my whole life.
I’m tired of the losing culture. I’m tired of the gut-wrenchers. I’m tired of the untapped potential.
Especially with where we now are in the season – no playoff hopes, no need to tank, etc….by all means, go win games. That’s all fans like me want. Wins.
As of recent games, I like what I see. Let’s keep the ball rolling.

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EastEndBoy

What does the win-streak mean…tbh I think the absolute number of wins means as much…ultimately. When the season is over – one day over – yes the streak will feel good. But when it is 100 days behind us, everyone (players included) will be creating expectations for 2020 starting with “where did the Bucs finish overall in 2019”. We will all be focused on where the Bucs pick in the draft – and comparing our team to those right in front and right behind us in the order. A 5-game win streak that still has a team picking 1st overall,… Read more »

jerseybucsfan

Well done. Culture is key at this moment. Good job Trevor!

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LoyalBucsFan

Been thrilled with how the team has grown under the new staff of Arians & Co. Throughout the years the team has had many talented players, great drafts, and some promising free agent pick ups too. The team still was spinning it’s wheels per say and the only aspect that was missing was the “winning culture” needed to turn our favorite team into a team that would deliver the results that we all have hoped for. Many nice coaches, and players have come in to do their best to help the franchise turn things around yet time again no real… Read more »