Tampa Bay crossed that task off its to-do list Sunday in Philadelphia and did so in convincing fashion. The Bucs hadn’t strung together wins since getting three straight in 2013.
Creating legitimate excitement, though, comes with how Tampa Bay went about thrashing the Eagles on their own field. It was Washington without the late-game letdown. Sixty straight minutes of solid football all the way to the final whistle.
Since last year head coach Lovie Smith’s delivered a message of staying the course and believing in the system.
Sunday was another sign that the work of Smith and general manager Jason Licht is starting to pay off. The Bucs neutralized Philadelphia’s offensive attack and their commitment to the run helped produce a huge day for Doug Martin.
Smith acknowledged the success after the game but said there’s more to come.
“It’s the best we’ve played in a while,” he said. “This week we talked a lot about back-to-back wins. I know that’s small to everybody else, but to us, it’s something we haven’t done in a long time. The guys really believed it, to get to .500.
“We’ve talked a lot about being relevant again. We’re relevant again.”
People can call Doug Martin whatever nickname they want as long as he’s doing stuff like that on Sundays.
The Bucs were talking last week about reviving their rushing attack and getting Martin back on track and the response was impressive. The fourth-year pro nearly topped his career single-game rushing mark by blasting the Eagles defense for 235 yards on 27 carries.
Thanks in part to some impressive run blocking up front, as well, Martin ripped off chunks of yards all day and allowed the Bucs to control possession for almost 36 minutes.
And as it’s been all season, Martin wasn’t alone in the backfield. Charles Sims continues to be a great change-of-pace back and picked up 43 yards on 10 rushing attempts to go along 26 more receiving yards and a touchdown on three catches.
Not much makes Lovie Smith happier than seeing his defense flip the field and Tampa Bay’s doing it as well as any team in the league right now.
Consistently winning the turnover battle is a good way to win on the scoreboard. The Bucs added four more yesterday with three interceptions of Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez and a fumble recovery by defensive end Jacquies Smith. Linebacker Lavonte David stayed impactful by grabbing two of those interceptions and taking the second into the end zone.
Tampa Bay’s defense is up to 20 turnovers on the year (10 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries) and its recorded at least one in all 10 games. Only four other defenses in the league have hit or exceeded the 20-turnover mark – Carolina (25), the New York Giants (22), Philadelphia (21) and the New York Jets (20).
Cameron Brate may not be flying off fantasy football waiver wires but the young tight end is stepping up for the Tampa Bay offense.
Tight ends had been almost non-existent since Austin Seferian-Jenkins got hurt Week 2. Brate, Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker would rotate in and out but passes rarely went their way.
That’s changing a little and Brate is making the most of his limited opportunities. The team’s lone Ivy Leaguer – he played at Harvard – snagged his second touchdown of the season in Philadelphia and caught three of his four targets for 47 yards.
Brate’s shown good hands since spending most of last season on the Bucs practice squad and is now up to nine catches for 131 yards. Tampa Bay had to sign him off the Saints practice squad in late September after releasing him twice that same month and Brate’s proving he’s worth the roster spot.
Four losing years in a row can cause any team’s followers to temper expectations, even when things start to turn around. Optimism took a big hit after the season-opening home debacle against Tennessee, but that suddenly feels lightyears away.
Lineup tweaks on both sides of the ball are paying off and looking better each week, the team’s been able to absorb a rash of injuries without falling apart, and getting above .500 this late in a season is oh so close.
Talking playoffs probably makes some people roll their eyes still and others might not want to get ahead of themselves just yet.
But why not? It’s time to get greedy and want three in a row. Barring a rare tie, someone’s walking out of Lucas Oil Stadium over .500 next Sunday. The Colts have won two straight, as well, but they don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opponents.
The win is there for the taking, people are starting to pay attention to the Bucs around the league for positive reasons and 6-5 would put Tampa Bay right in the thick of things heading into a divisional showdown against Atlanta.