It’s been almost two calendar years since Tampa Bay fans have been able to celebrate back-to-back victories but that’s exactly what the Bucs can accomplish Sunday in Houston.
Coming home with a win would mark the franchise’s first positive streak since the 2013 team snapped an eight-game skid by taking three in a row from Miami, Atlanta and Detroit.
In addition to retaining momentum gained from last week in New Orleans, Tampa Bay could also find itself above .500 for the first time since early December 2012. Those Bucs headed into a road game against Denver at 6-5 overall but lost 31-23 and went on to drop their next three.
“It’d be new ground for us,” Lovie Smith said Thursday afternoon about the significance of stringing together wins and having a winning record for the first time in his tenure as head coach. “Last week it was too to get to .500. Right now we understand everybody looks at us as the past Tampa Bay Buccaneers but we’re in a position to do something about it and our guys realize that. It’s tough going on the road two weeks in a row and winning but we have an opportunity to do that.”
Multiple players took time to speak about how a win Sunday could provide another boost of confidence for a team on the cusp of turning a corner.
“It would be huge,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “I was thinking about it just winning this past game that it was the first time we weren’t in the losing percentage. We’re finally even at least at one point, so it’ll be huge to be 2-1 and just have that momentum and then hopefully take that into a home game so we can finally get one of those here. That would be huge to start out 2-1 and have that winning record. That’s why this week is important. It’s very, very important this week for us.”
Winning at Houston won’t come easy, though, and Bucs players are preparing to face an 0-2 Texans team that’s desperate for a win.
“We just know we have to go into a hostile territory,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “Y’all watched “Hard Knocks” just like me. You know what type of mentality they want to have. They want to physically impose their will on anybody they face. Definitely being 0-2 and having somebody come into their home … Coach [Bill] O’Brien said that they kind of pulled back on them in practice this week. I know the strategy behind that. That means come Sunday they’re going to come out humming, so we’ve got to be ready for it.”
After nosediving to a 2-14 record in 2013, Houston rebounded with a 9-7 showing last year that included winning five of its last seven contests. Adding last year’s injured No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney to an already intimidating defensive front seven led many outside observers to list Houston as a team to watch entering the 2015 campaign. That still may be the case but back-to-back seven-point losses to Kansas City and Carolina have the Texans backed into a corner.
With inexperienced quarterback Ryan Mallett set to make only his fourth career start, four-time Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster still not expected to be available and top receiver DeAndre Hopkins on the mend after suffering a concussion, the Texans look like they’ll be running out an offense vulnerable to being exposed.
That’s not how Verner said the team is looking at things, especially considering their own not-too-distant past.
“The way I look at it, we were 2-14 last year,” he said. “I don’t think we’re in any position to take anybody lightly and say things, oh we’re just going to walk in and beat anybody. So anybody who has that in their head I think they should get that out.
“You’ve got to [respect] everybody. I mean, Antonio Brown, if you want to look at him, was a sixth-rounder. Tom Brady was a seventh-rounder. Rounders, times, stats, that all means really nothing at the end of the day. So you have to train like you’re playing against the greatest person every week.”
Veteran receiver Vincent Jackson touched on the topic during his weekly Thursday session with reporters and said Bucs players need to focus on themselves and taking care of their own business rather than what Houston’s done or hasn’t done as a team through two weeks.
“That’s been the message in all our meetings, just focus on doing your job, doing it the right way, one game at a time,” he said. “Obviously they’re a tough team, they’re going to have a lot energy playing at home and they’re 0-2 right now so we’re going to get their best shot and we’re going to be prepared for it.”
In the midst of last year’s misery and once again following the disaster that was Week 1, Smith has projected an all-around optimism that’s tough to crack. He showed it again Thursday, while adding that another win would be a big step in the right direction for a young team in need of some consistent positive reinforcement.
“I feel like we’re going to be a good ball club,” Smith said. “[There are] so many things we need to tighten up from our last game. We have young players and we’re asking guys not to make the same mistakes again, but it will do a lot for our psyche to get to 2-1.”