After starting the season 0-2, some members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers believe that Sunday's game against the New York Giants is a must-win game for the Bucs. The Buccaneers lost in Week 1 to the Dallas Cowboys 34-21 at home, and dropped their Week 2 game to the Bills 33-20 at Buffalo. With a tough opponent on Sunday, followed by plenty of other projected playoff contenders, some on Tampa Bay believe that Sunday is a must-win game.
"It is kind of a must-win for everybody when you look at it. Especially when you are 0-2," said starting quarterback Byron Leftwich. "It is a must-win for everybody in this league that doesn't have a win to be honest. Everybody is saying that on Wednesday in the team meeting. Coaches are standing up and saying to every team that is 0-2, this is a must win. We can't allow this to get out of hand. What we got to do is take that approach on every game. When we take that approach I believe we won't (let this get out of hand). We come out ready to play; I don't want to put in on youth. I'm not going to sit up here and say we are young and that is why we are making those mistakes, because the coaches are putting the time in and getting us the information. We just have to fine tune some things, and when we fine tune those things I believe that will be the difference in us winning and losing football games."
Leftwich said that after two losses where the Bucs allowed a lot of points and big plays, frustration is evident throughout the team. The Buccaneers veteran signal caller said that the losses are discouraging for the veterans and young players alike.
"You can see the frustration on peoples face. You can see it on the guys who have been around," Leftwich said. "You guys might say ‘Hey they are young. They are rebuilding. We'll give these guys a mulligan.' I'm 29 man. I'm old. I'm getting old. There are a lot of guys on this team that are ready to win now. Including our young guys. We are not going to use that as a crutch. We understand when we are in the game, we got to find ways to win the game. Bottom line, that's what good football teams do. It doesn't matter who makes the play, we got to do something to find a way to win that game. I think we understand that.
"When you don't taste the victory it shouldn't matter if you are a 10-year guy or a rookie you shouldn't like that. You shouldn't like losing on any level. Guys don't just get to this level and learn how to win or lose. Guys come into this level most of the time as winners. We just got to do a better job of winning football games, of winning plays. Understanding the importance of situations in football games. Plays have to be made, and bad plays can't be made. I believe that we understand that. We just have to put it on the field on Sunday."
Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris agrees with his starting signal caller that Sunday is a must-win. However, Morris thinks that every game is critical for Tampa Bay to rebound and be a playoff contender.
"All 16 games are must-win realistically in this league," said Morris. "They all count. This is not a knock on baseball season or basketball season, but you don't have that many games to get in the playoffs. You got to win them all, or try to win them all at least, or put yourself in position to win them all. We've been in the position to have an opportunity to win, but that doesn't mean enough. Your 0-2, for us we got to win, and we want to win. A lot of guys like to use the term rebuilding, but we don't use that term because we got guys on this team like Ronde Barber and Chris Hovan who don't deserve that. Those guys want to win right now. These young guys want to win for them. We have to pick these young guys up, and put them on a faster scale."
Against the Dallas Cowboys the Bucs ran for 174 yards on the ground, and followed that up with 57 yards rushing against the Buffalo Bills. In order for the Bucs to have a shot at winning against the Giants they will likely have to have a rushing day closer to Week 1. New York has the 27th ranked run defense and has allowed an average of 168 yards per game on the ground. Starting right guard Davin Joseph said his unit will have to play better. Joseph said Tampa Bay must grab a victory on Sunday.
"Right now being 0-2, you can say that (it is a must-win). Any team in the league right now, it is a must-win," said Joseph. "If it is a NFC team it also is a must-win. To me I look at it as a divisional game because we have the potential to see those guys later on, if we have success. We have to have success this Sunday for the spirit of our team. For our potential looks in the future, playing a team that has had so much success in their own division, so much success in the NFC. If we want to be contenders we have to be able to compete with those guys."
Starting wide receiver Michael Clayton did not agree with his offensive teammates that beating the Giants was mandatory for the Bucs. Clayton was asked if it is too early in the season for their Week 3 contest to be viewed as a must-win.
"Definitely, definitely. All across the league I know of some teams that lost that have still won the Super Bowl," said Clayton. "We have a lot of obstacles that we have to get over right now. We are doing that one at a time. We are in the situation where everybody is still confident in the things we are doing in our offense. We are having success right now. The only thing is we are shooting ourselves in the foot with our own mistakes. We got to eliminate that."
While not all the players agree that Tampa Bay must get a victory on Sunday. They were all in agreement of the negative effects that losing has on the team. Veteran defensive tackle Chris Hovan said the losses linger beyond game day.
"It messes up your whole mentality for two or three days," said Hovan. "You put so much work in – guys in this office, coaches, players have 12-14-hour days sometimes – to get a win. And when you don't get it, that's how disappointed you are. You put all that work in and you've sold yourself out on the field. You expect to win. It's a little bit hard. Morale is down for about a day or a day in a half. But this business is really cyclical. We've got to turn it over and get ready for the Giants. Buffalo is behind us. We know what we did wrong, and we know what we have to correct. We know what we have to do.
"I'm very tough to deal with. My wife says I should move out for two days. She absolutely hates me. I remember we were in the kitchen yesterday and she said, ‘Oh, it's football season.' I said, ‘Why?' She said, ‘You're just a jerk sometimes.' She's great. She puts up with my bull."
As Clayton expressed, the Bucs feel their effective offense will be up to the challenge of producing for a third straight week. Currently Tampa Bay has the fourth ranked offense in the NFL. New offensive coordinator Greg Olson has directed the Buccaneers to the sixth rated passing attack and the 14th ranked ground game. Olson was elevated to his position late in the preseason, and the Bucs offense continues to evolve under him.
"We are adding more," Leftwich said. "The good thing is it is a game plan week, so week-to-week you go in for game plans you wonder how you want to attack these certain teams. [Olson] is getting creative. [Olson] is coming up with things. We are always attacking teams. We don't let teams get plays off. We are always trying to attack people, and get big plays, and when they are not there we got to do a better job of getting the ball down to guys underneath and making sure we get completions out of it, and good plays out of it, so we have been doing a good job of that. We just got to stop making like the fourth-and-1 mistakes, and those type of things that really hurts as a winning ball club."
Leftwich has had success leading Olson's offense through two games with a quarterback rating of 80.5. He has completed 56 percent of his passes for 572 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. In 91 pass attempts Leftwich has been sacked twice. Leftwich has completed passes of 40+ yards in each game, and the Bucs offense has been effective in the red zone with a perfect five-for-five showing.
"With [Olson] he is on attack mode every play," said Leftwich. "You know how some guys call a play to pick up four or five, but we call plays to pick up 40. If it is not there we'll take the four or five. That's what I mean that you are constantly putting pressure on the defense. You are constantly forcing guys to cover the whole field. I don't think they can say when they are in this formation they just do this. When they are in this we'll just do that. We are so broad, we are so wide-open right now that with the players that we have we are capable of doing a lot of different things. I think it is keeping some defenses off balance."
Joseph echoed Leftwich's comments on the diversity of the way in which Olson attacks defenses.
"With Olson as our offensive coordinator I think he is doing a lot to highlight a lot of different players," said Joseph. "As we progress throughout the season, find ways to win on offense, find ways to score points is going to let us explode. It is going to let us become a potent offense."
While the players are confident in the offense, the leader of the unit feels there is plenty of room for improvement. Prior to the Buffalo game, Olson said that unless the team wins he does not view the game as being a success. Olson thinks that the offense can improve from the first two games of the 2009 season.
"It is early, again, and we are missing two critical pieces in Jeff Faine and Antonio Bryant," said Olson. "We are not where we need to be in my opinion. I knew, as I told you last week, I knew this team had a chance to be good offensively from being around it last year, and the way they finished up last year. I knew we were a few pieces away, a few critical players away from being a pretty good offensive football team. I think we can get there. Again, we have got to be healthy, and we got to establish some depth."
Morris was asked if he think that the 2009 Buccaneers offense could be the best in franchise history.
"It could be. They got the tools, they got the weapons, they got the people," said Morris. "They got confidence. They got everything you want."