Eight games remain on the schedule. That’s plenty of time to turn around a Bucs season trending in the wrong direction.
But at 3-5 overall and caught in an ugly two-game tailspin, Tampa Bay finds itself nearing (or in) must-win territory if it wants to salvage the 2016 season.
Bucs C Joe Hawley- Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
“Yeah, we’ve got to have it all,” center Joe Hawley said Wednesday of this week’s home game against the Chicago Bears. “We’ve given ourselves a really small window now. Obviously you don’t think about it like that or else you’ll drive yourself crazy. That’s more for you guys to think about. We’ve just got to come to work each day and work hard and work to get better and take it one week at a time. That’s the only way we can approach it.”
The good news is the Bucs get a last-place, 2-6 team coming to town this weekend that is 0-4 on the road. The bad news is the Bucs are only a game better in the standings and are 0-4 at home.
Something’s gotta give.
“Every game in the NFL is pretty much a must win, but for us we’ve just got to get back on track at home,” said tight end Cameron Brate, who grew up about 30 miles west of Chicago. “Obviously we’ve struggled this year at home. Going back to a couple years ago it seems like we have a tougher time winning at home, so what better opportunity than Chicago coming in here off a big win against the Vikings. We feel it’s a huge opportunity for us and, yeah, it’s a must win.”
The Bucs’ home woes have been well documented with additional stumble. The skid is up to six straight at Raymond James Stadium, including last year’s 26-21 home finale loss to Chicago. No Tampa Bay team has finished .500 or better at home since going 4-4 in 2010 under head coach Raheem Morris. Bucs fans have celebrated home victories only three times in the past 20 games.
Letting Sunday slip away against the Bears would twist the knife yet again by squandering the entirety of a three-game homestand.
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“It’s harder to win games on the road in the NFL than it is at home,” Brate said. “But for whatever reason things just haven’t gone our way at home this year. So we don’t really think about, like, ‘Oh, we’re playing at home. We suck at home.’ It’s nothing like that or anything. The ball just doesn’t seem to bounce our way, really. Calls don’t seem to go our way at home so far, but we feel like things are going to turn around.”
Although this is a Bears team that’s pretty much lived up to gloomy preseason prognostications, Chicago is coming off a big 20-10 win over Minnesota two Mondays ago before getting a week off. Coming off byes, teams led by Bears head coach John Fox are 10-4 (6-3 with Carolina, 4-0 with Denver and 0-1 with Chicago).
“Playing football in this league, both at the individual player level and really putting it all together at the team level, obviously it helps to have confidence,” Fox said during a teleconference with the Tampa Bay media. “It’s hard to gain confidence without something good happening, and so much is put on the wins and losses columns, which is understandable. We’re in a performance-based business. So obviously you work very hard in preparation and to get that good feeling in the locker room with a W after the game does give you a boost of confidence.”
As for Tampa Bay’s primary leader on the field, quarterback Jameis Winston said his primary focus is on the task at hand right now. What comes in the future can wait, because right now is a few more days of Bears prep.
“I’m not even thinking about the other seven beyond this week, just focusing on week to week,” said Winston, who will be looking to improve his home record to 4-9. “Every week is a big week for us, so we’ve got to really make every week a championship-game mentality because we need wins.”