Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Back in September, following an opening day win on the road versus the eventual NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons, I wrote a column called, There’s Optimism In The Air, Bucs Fans. Can You Feel It?
“There is a feeling in the air for Bucs fans.
Can you feel it?
No, not the first blast of cool Canadian air that arrives as the calendar tells us Fall is approaching as the local drug stores put out Halloween candy and bad seasonal decorations.
Instead it is a feeling of optimism that Bucs fans haven’t felt in years.”
I will admit, there were times this season when I thought, “Well Cook, you sure were off on that column.”
In fact there was the following week when the Bucs went to Arizona and got blitzed by the Cardinals 40-7. Oops.
And the next two weeks when the Bucs were beaten by a bad Rams team then manhandled by the Broncos. Yikes.
But then a Monday night match-up on the road against the Panthers, with a depleted 1-3 football team facing the 2015 NFC champs, there was a glimmer of hope. Yes, Carolina was without Cam Newton, and yes, tight end Greg Olson caught 37 balls for 476 yards that night. But somehow the Buccaneers did just enough to squeak out a win.
A potential season-saving win.
And the optimism was back.
Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Then during a trip out to the West Coast, a place where the Bucs have notoriously been bad, Tampa Bay fell behind 14-0 early to the national anthem-kneeling Colin Kaepernick-led San Francisco 49ers. Oh boy. This season was about to get real ugly.
But the Bucs turned it around and flew home from the other Bay area, 34-17 victors.
The roller coaster ride of a season was far from over however, and two weeks later it was the lowest of lows for the Bucs as they were soundly beaten at home in front of a national audience on Thursday Night Football, losing to Atlanta, 43-28.
The 3-5 Bucs were at a crossroad, and it felt like the pewter and red car was stalled on the tracks with a freight train barreling at them moving 100 mph.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter was as down in the dumps as we had seen following the loss. Up at the podium that night, Koetter was frustrated. He seemed as lost as his defense did that night trying to cover Julio Jones.
I remember leaning over and mentioning to someone in the press box, how is Koetter going to be able to fire his friend, defensive coordinator Mike Smith, after a 4-12 season?
It was a legitimate question. And one that might have come to fruition had things not changed.
But change it did.
The Bucs players were given a few days off, and the coaching staff went to work.
What were they doing wrong? What can they do to change things? How can they save the Bucs’ version of the Titanic that was sinking faster than Mariah Carey’s singing career on New Year’s Eve?
Communication. Or a lack there of.
A word we heard numerous times through the first eight games as coaches tried to explain a defense that was just as bad, if not worse than the Lovie Smith version the previous two years.
When the players arrived back at One Buc the following Monday, following the Thursday night debacle, instead of coaches berating and criticizing, they asked the players for their help. It was a bold move, and one that paid off big time.
Some coaches are egomaniacs. Okay, most coaches are egomaniacs and think their way is the only way. And a lot of times that’s the case. But Smith and his staff left their egos at the door driving into work that Monday morning.
Things were simplified. Players were given a voice, but also had to verbally communicate more in team meetings, calling out formations and pretending they were on the field while watching plays in the film room. The unit bonded. And the Bucs started winning.
While the Bucs missed the playoffs by the narrowest of margins, the arrow is definitely pointed up. Like way up.
Players like Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and Ali Marpet give the offense optimism and hope for the future.
Players like Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David and Vernon Hargreaves give the defense optimism and hope for the future.
Koetter, only the second head coach in Tampa Bay to finish his first season with a winning record, gives fans optimism and hope for the future.
Dirk Koetter and Vernon Hargreaves – Photo by: Mark LoMoglio/PR
General manager Jason Licht gives fans optimism and hope or the future.
Things started rocky for Tony Dungy in his first season back in 1996. We all know how that turned out.
There is a vibe in Tampa Bay that hasn’t been felt in a long time after the team’s first wining season since 2010 when the Bucs finished 10-6. But despite that winning record six years ago, did fans and the community really feel that the team was primed to make a playoff run?
I didn’t. Did you?
The answer ended up being no, as the team followed up their 2010, 10-6 campaign with a 4-12 season. Head coach Raheem Morris was fired. Two years later, quarterback Josh Freeman imploded and was cut mid-season.
Greg Schiano was next. Fail.
Lovie Smith was next. Nope.
But even the most cynical Bucs fans don’t believe history is set to repeat itself with this group. There is too much leadership, from the top to the bottom.
Football is a funny game. The Panthers were nearly at the mountaintop of the NFL world in 2015 and came tumbling back to reality this season. Teams change. Personnel changes. Chemistry changes. Balls bounce funny ways. Teams come back down to Earth.
And that could happen to the Buccaneers in 2017, but I don’t believe it will.
Not with Winston. Not with McCoy. Not with Alexander.
And not with Koetter.
There’s an optimism in the air, Bucs fans. Can you feel it?
Even more than I did in September.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark, I don’t feel as if it was a roller coaster season. By that I mean I feel it was a tale of two seasons in one. 3-5 and then 6-2.
At 3-5 there was nothing but pessimism and negativity surrounding the Buccaneers. They could NOT win a home game and blew two games in the Ray Jay that were just inexcusable, against the Rams and the Raiders. After that they got demolished on that awful Thursday Night game in front of Buccaneer greats Lynch, Sapp and Brooks not to mention the disappointed home crowd….. again.
But then? An incredible five game win streak against good teams including playoff teams Chiefs and Seahawks. And damn, they DID lose two straight after that but think about it. Both games were on the road. One against the team with the best record in the NFC and the number one seed. They lost by less than a TD and had a chance to win that one late in the game. The other against the Saints in New Orleans where they score more points at home than any team in football. They lost by a TD and also had a chance to win it late. Is that so shocking? I don’t think so. Finally an exciting win at home against the Panthers, a healthy Panther team that played to win. A team in the Super Bowl last February!
Optimistic? Damn right I am! With so many young players on the cusp of greatness, guys who really care about each other and love to play the game, I think this team is ready to shoot for and get to the playoffs for years to come. Couple that with a lot of CAP money available and another draft? Exciting times Mark, exciting times. BTW. let’s hope the Buccaneers use some of that CAP money to resign their own. There are, IMO, many young players who deserve it and I’d like to see stay here.
Rah Rah! You bet! Thanks and a hat tip Mark, keep up the great work!
I don’t know about Gerald McCoy being a leader of optimism going forward.
Good, talented player, Yes.
It’s up to Winston, Alexander, Ayers, and hopefully some new guys to make sure this team is ready to take the next step in 2017.
Remember McCoy thought this season was “special”…
Leadership is greatly over-rated in the NFL. Playmaking is what matters. Every man just doing his own job and not being worried about anyone else on the team doing their job. That is precisely the formula that Bill Belichick has used to become the greatest all time coach of the NFL. Just do your job.
And if you don’t someone else will and your GONE!
Funny how all of the teams and players talk about the importance of leadership while you poo poo it. No, a “leader” isn’t necessarily the guy standing on a chair with pom poms. But it is the guy(s) who set the tone. I suppose the tuba, trumpet, clarinet and drum players could play a tune, but I notice all bands have a guy up front with a little mother &%$# stick leading them.
I disagree with the McCoy comment. Up to this year I was not much of a fan of McCoy. During the second half of the season I noticed nearly every game the commentators stating that the Bucs were only rushing their front 4. You can’t do that unless you have a dominant DT that can stop the run and get to the QB. My only concern is how long can McCoy be a force because playing DT is tough on the body.
Well, if your sense of optimism flips every time the team plays a game, win or loss, you’ll flip yourself out. Even the almighty juggernaut known as the New England Patriots lost two games this season (one with Brady starting), which promptly caused the media mavens to immediately downgrade them on their weekly exercises in self-abuse otherwise known as “power rankings” … only to flip them up to the top at the end of the season where they clearly belonged all season.
That is some pretty stale Kool-aid you are drinking, Mark, but it sure does taste good, doesn’t it. There is definitely a bit of a hollow feeling right now, as I read articles on draft picks instead of playoff preparation, but this is the best I’ve felt about the Bucs in a long time. They’ve always had my support and love, but optimism hasn’t been this high in quite a few years.
Hopefully Licht will continue to learn from his mistakes and have another good FA class, as we did last year, with the exception of Sweezy, who could maybe finally pay off next season (not holding my breath). This year, time to learn from last year’s draft mistake (I’m looking at you Roberto) and let the draft come to you and get a few positions the improvement we need.
Bucs need to get some more speed on offense and please get McCaffery or Cook I want a franchise RB to pair with Mike and Jameis.
I am kinda of bummed out that the season is over. I enjoyed waking up Sunday, resting, and watching NFL football all day, which included Bucs’ football and them winning. Nine more months. Go Bucs! The future is brighter than it has been for a while.
All I can say is wow. What a season. Like everyone on this thread, I too had high hopes for our Bucs at the beginning of the season. Just like every season. For the past 5 years it felt a little like ground hog day up until this year. Our team would make big changes with free agency and changes in the coaching staff along with a high draft pick. I would get ecstatic for the season to start hoping our draft picks would pan out, hoping all the changes would work. I would be let down every year however, just left shaking my head and telling my friends next year will be better with a good draft. This was the year! We finally have a recipe that tastes palatable. I feel and believe the tides have turned. We finally have structure we can build around. Our future is bright fellas! I have been following the pewterreport all these years, reading most of the comments by the true bucs fans. Let me tell you all, I am proud to wear BUCS swag way up here in SoDak!!
I have been optimistic leading up to the start of 40 football seasons. Of course often in the back of my mind I knew it was more wishful thinking than logical reasoning. After the 1979 Worst to First season I came to realize that anything can happen as it also did during those dreadful seasons in the mid 80’s to mid 90’s when the Bucs were considered the worst team in the league. Virtually no one wanted to admit being a Bucs fan. Rarely did anyone dare wear the Bucco Bruce logo in public.
The excitement in the area was never greater than the start of the 1997 season. All of the pent up enthusiasm poured onto the streets as Bucs fans proudly displayed their flags. Fans who were so reluctant to give up their other “hometown” team jumped on the bandwagon. The team was “on the cusp” as Jon Gruden would say.
After so many years being mocked, we were on top of the football world in January 2003. The opening day victory over the Eagles to start the 2003 season John Madden declared the Bucs to be far above the rest of the league. Then came the game against the Colts when with a mere four minutes remaining, with a 21 point lead, the swagger died with a crushing loss. The window slammed shut.
Oh we had a couple of good seasons, but the enthusiasm for the Bucs waned as evidenced by the Giants playoff game that was so poorly attended by the locals as Giants fans overtook our “home” turf.
The original 10 year season ticket commitment ended and many decided not to renew. The waiting list was meaningless when it came time for those folks to write the check. Sellouts were a thing of the past with the season pass membership so low.
There was a bit of excitement when Lovie Smith was brought “home” and folks thought a return to the great defenses would follow. When it didn’t, fans were disappointed once again.
Jameis Winston and the offense injected some much needed excitement but the four losses to close out the 2015 season once again threw water on the spark.
Leading up to this season there was a little more cautious optimism. We’d all been let down too many times. That first win against the Falcons followed by the ass whipping by the Cardinals sure extinguished the fire again.
In spite of the losses the first half of the season, there was something different about this team. It didn’t quit. It didn’t cower at the first sign of adversity. It fought back. Fans noticed and what followed is the fans began to return.
Welcome Back……….thanks to Koetter!
Nice job scubog. I too have been a Buc fan since their first year. I grew up in New Mexico where it is Cowboy/Bronco territory. The year the Bucs went 0-14 the Broncos (Orange Crush) played the Cowboys (Doomsday Defense) and bullies around my Junior High would ask “Are you for the Broncos or Cowboys?” If you said Broncos they punched you and said they liked the Cowboys and vice versa, either way a punch was coming. So when I was asked I said proudly “I like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”. They usually shook their head in disbelief and confusion, but a punch never came. That summer I wrote John McKay a letter explaining I was a Buc fan in the middle of New Mexico with little or no coverage of Tampa Bay. He wrote me a letter (probably signed by some intern) and in the package came a bunch of Buc promo-items. Hugh Culverhouse probably never knew they sent this to me (cause the postage would’ve been too expensive). But I got a couple of deliveries at indeterminate times, and was a Buc fan for life. A few years later in 1979, boy did I hold my head up, and if not for the crappy rain in Tampa, I think the Bucs would’ve gone to the Superbowl. That Superbowl was a really good one, the Steelers defeating the Rams is a much closer game than the score indicates. But I always imagined my Bucs playing instead of the Rams, wishing I could see that great 1979 team that day. I lived and been loyal through all the Testaverde, DeBerg, Dilfer, years. I watched in a Bear bar in Newport Beach the Bucs play the Lions on a black and white tv over the bathroom entrance (with a Lions’ fan by the way). I watched in a bar in Salt Lake City (when I lived there) with two other Bucs fans who were part of the official Buc Fan Club of Utah (we were the only three members). And I enjoyed the Dungy/Gruden rise and glory. It’s been 14 years and this new Bucs team looks ready to take the next step. Get on that bandwagon Tampa!!! We always have room for you…
I have really enjoyed reading the posts on this thread. Namely because several of you have articulated my feelings about this past season almost exactly. Scubog, you have defined what it has meant to be a Bucs fan. I always joke that my pessimism is now hard wired due to my ‘fanhood’ of the Bucs. However, this season I’ve had a different feeling. The pessimism is still there because I’ve believed before and been burned. But I just felt like things were different. I was realistic with my hopes and actually said to my friends early in the season that I thought this year’s Bucs were an 8-8 or 9-7 team. And Naplesfan, you’re exactly right. The flip flopping after wins and losses is actually useless. The team doesn’t change on a dime like that. One week they’re awesome and the next week they suck again. I bet most players don’t see it that way. These players in particular don’t see it that way. And for the first time in a long while I didn’t see it that way either. I really believed every week that this team was what they turned out to be. A team on the rise with a chance to win every week against any team. Of course I’m aware that we didn’t blow anyone out of the water and any one of those 9 wins could have been a loss especially the really close ones. We had to scratch and claw for every win. But my growing optimism has me believing that this team, with some needed additions, will begin to dominate on the weeks that they should, and continue to compete more consistently against the best teams in the league. I believe it. And it seems like many other people do too.
Well said twisted.
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