It truly is a happy holiday this year in Tampa – despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a lot of the crappy things this country has had to deal since virtually the start of 2020.
And no, it’s not a happy holiday just because the Tampa Bay Lightning won its second Stanley Cup, and the Tampa Bay Rays made it to their second World Series.
It’s because the Buccaneers are good this year.
It took a while, didn’t it?
Notice I said good – not great.
Your Buccaneers are a good team this year in Year 2 of the Bruce Arians regime, and the first with the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, under center. They won’t become great until next year, when Brady has another year in Arians’ system and the Bucs dethrone the Saints to win the NFC South.
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
This year Tampa Bay will finish second fiddle to New Orleans in the division, but will make the playoffs.
The Bucs are 7-4 so far this season, and thanks to a top-heavy NFC conference, Tampa Bay would really have to screw things up in December to miss the playoffs. Even if the team slips to 7-5 with a loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, the Bucs have a chance to win out in December against some lesser teams like Minnesota (4-6), Detroit (4-6) and Atlanta (3-7) twice. That would put Tampa Bay at 11-5 and assure the team of a long-awaited playoff berth.
I got most of those predictions right, such as Brady and the Bucs losing to Nick Foles – yes, I called Foles taking over for Mitchell Trubisky by Week 5 before the season started – and I correctly predicted Tampa Bay getting swept by New Orleans, but sweeping Carolina, and starting the season 3-2. In fact, the only two games I didn’t accurately predict the outcomes of were Green Bay (I forecast a loss) and Monday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams (I predicted a win).
I had the Bucs at 7-4, which is where they are now, and at 7-5, which they’ll be on Sunday night after losing to the Chiefs. I predicted a loss to Minnesota, but three straight wins to end the season. That gets the Bucs to 10-6, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win every game after the bye week, and making it a December to remember in Tampa Bay.
But this isn’t about me or my predictions.
This is about your Buccaneers being better than they were a year ago, and that’s something to be thankful for.
Jameis Winston had thrown 22 touchdowns and 20 interceptions through 11 games in 2019 and that was a big reason why Tampa Bay was 4-7. Brady has accounted for 28 touchdowns (25 passing, three rushing) with only nine interceptions by comparison.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Arians publicly putting some of the blame on Brady – and deservedly so – might be a new phenomenon for the future first ballot Hall of Famer and might ruffle some feathers, but when Brady plays well the Bucs win. It’s really that simple.
And when he doesn’t play well, as was the case in Tampa Bay’s 27-24 loss to L.A. on Monday Night Football, in addition to two games against New Orleans and the Chicago game, the Bucs lose.
That’s been the case in Tampa Bay under Arians, whether it’s Brady or Winston at the helm of his quarterback-driven offense.
General manager Jason Licht has selected some really good talent over the last couple of drafts, including nose tackle Vita Vea, inside linebacker Devin White, cornerback Carlton Davis III, and this year’s first-round pick, right tackle Tristan Wirfs; and acquired others like outside linebackers like Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett and tight end Rob Gronkowski among others to put this team into playoff position. That’s something to be thankful for, along with an improved defense coached by Todd Bowles.
Oh, and Licht finally got a real kicker in Ryan Succop, and that’s really something to be thankful for.
With the team’s next win, progress will have officially been made over last year’s 7-9 record, and the Bucs will have their first non-losing season since the team went 9-7 in Dirk Koetter’s first season as head coach in 2016.
Two more victories and the Bucs are winners again.
Three more wins and Tampa Bay is likely in the postseason.
Four more triumphs and the Bucs are assuredly playoff-bound.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
What I’m thankful for is that the narrative around the Bucs is changing along with the team culture. Not only do I appreciate not even writing about draft stuff in October or November because the Bucs are winning in 2020, I also like that Tampa Bay isn’t really beating itself anymore.
Sure, Brady’s two interceptions against the Rams were self-inflicted wounds, especially the one at the end of the game, but Tampa Bay had just two penalties for seven yards on Monday night and have become a much more disciplined team. In fact, the Bucs haven’t had more than 39 yards of penalties in any game over the past six weeks since the Bears game.
Gone are Bucs teams from the past decade that were reminiscent of the Keystone Cops, where we all witnessed a comedy of red and pewter errors for three hours each Sunday.
Tampa Bay just flat out narrowly lost to a good, playoff-bound L.A. team on Monday night the way some of the playoff-caliber teams under Tony Dungy or Jon Gruden would do on occasion. What’s here are heightened expectations in Tampa Bay, and that’s refreshing.
It’s been a couple years – a dozen to be exact – since fans were upset after a close loss to a very good football team by a 7-4 Bucs squad. The fans – like the players – now expect the team to win.
This Tampa Bay team is on the rise. A foundation is being laid that should keep the Bucs as a good or great team for years to come – even after Arians and Brady retire.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s enjoy this transitional year in Tampa Bay and an expected playoff push by the Bucs.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com