The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off their best weekend of the season and they didn’t even take the field.
Despite a miserable 1-5 overall record, last-place Tampa Bay still finds itself in the thick of the NFC South race by virtue of widespread mediocrity throughout the division. All three of the Bucs’ foes – Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans – took a hit on Sunday, including a pair of wipeouts endured by the first two franchises on that list.
As of Monday, Carolina leads the way at 3-3-1, followed by New Orleans at 2-4 and Atlanta at 2-5, and the fortuitousness of this past weekend’s results was not lost upon Bucs players.
“For us to be 1-5 and still one game out of second place, that just lets us know that we’ve still got hope,” said right tackle Demar Dotson from the locker room Monday. “It looks like this division isn’t as tough as it used to be. It looks a little softer. A lot of the teams are getting beat up on.”
Head coach Lovie Smith also noticed the futility of the NFC South over the weekend.
“What our record is – I watched all of the games this week, I know what happened in our division, I realize how many games we’re out of first place, we’re in it as much as anyone with our record,” Smith said on Monday afternoon. “That’s what we’re focusing on. Again, there’s life when you take a little bit of time off to not play a game and end up in a better position than when we started the Sunday, we’re in a lot better of a position now. We’re excited about that.”
Providing an added dose of optimism to players and fans is the Bucs’ upcoming schedule. Tampa Bay’s next four opponents own an unthreatening combined record of 9-18 – Minnesota (2-5), Cleveland (3-3), Atlanta (2-5) and Washington (2-5). The Bucs get Minnesota this Sunday and Atlanta on Nov. 9 at home.
“We’ve got to take one day at a time,” Dotson said. “It’s a brand new start. I know we keep saying that but this is an opportunity because as bad as a start that we’ve had we still are in a lot of things. That’s a good thing at the end of the day.”
Taking that mentality a few steps further was defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
“If we win out, we’d be 11-5,” he said. “We go 11-5 we’d have a pretty good shot at going to the playoffs. So there is an opportunity. All our division foes lost, so yeah. We practice today and we get a chance to get better.”
As unlikely as running the table may seem, especially when last the on-field memories are of the Bucs getting thoroughly dealt with at home by Baltimore, it wouldn’t be a first-of-its-kind turnaround. Fans of the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals and 1992 San Diego Chargers probably would have laughed people out of the room who even mildly suggested their respective 1-6 and 0-4 teams had a shot at the postseason. Cincinnati did it by winning out its next seven and San Diego finished 11-1.
McCoy’s comment of winning out was primarily made to stress how there’s a lot of season left to be played. The rest of his words regarding Tampa Bay’s record and its upcoming schedule leaned on a tried-and-true sports cliché.
“We’re not going to think about the next four opponents, we’re going to think about today,” McCoy said. “Today we don’t have an opponent but ourselves. We have to do our best to win today. Win today, take tomorrow off and come back and win Wednesday. We have a mentality now and it’s a one-day-at-a-time mentality. We can’t think about Minnesota until Sunday. Right now it’s about us.”
“Everything in the past that happened is the past,” receiver Louis Murphy said while standing a few lockers down from McCoy. “We’re just coming back with a fresh outlook on the season; like it’s 0-0 and coming to work to just move forward. You can’t change the past. The only thing we can do is take care of our business one day at a time.”
If Tampa Bay was to pull off an almost-unprecedented turnaround this season, it would definitely be the most dramatic bounce-back in franchise history.
The 1981 Buccaneers fell to 5-6 with only five games to play but managed to advance to the postseason by winning four of their last five, and the 1999 squad won eight of its last nine after a 3-4 start to finish 11-5. None of Tampa Bay’s 11 teams that have finished with a winning record in a non-strike-shortened season ever fell below the .500 mark by more than a single game. The 1982 Bucs went 5-4 in an abbreviated year after starting 0-3.
Playoffs? Well I guess if you gave me 100-1 odds, I would put a buck on it. The divisional standings tell you that they still have an opportunity, but the games I watched say not so much. If they had a middle of the pack defense I would have more hope.
Wouldn’t bet on it, either. Those are the circumstances in this division, though. Whether people want to be optimistic or pessimistic is up to them.
I choose pragmatic instead of optimistic or pessimistic. I can only go by what I see and what I haven’t seen is the defense finding any semblance of synchronicity. When I see that, then I will believe they can knock off some wins. They need to now where they should be on the field, when they should be there, what their responsibilities are and what their teammates responsibilities are that are around them. I think it will take at least 4 more games before that STARTS to happen.
So Buctebow, I sure don’t want your attitude on my team. Just about anywhere I have worked we were challenged to do it better. Tell us your secret to turn this around as of right now? I would like to see what you bring to the table; give it a try.
Horse, the only real option is to dummy it down, focus on fundamentals until they are pretty solid and then add nuances later. Half of a scheme done well is better than a whole scheme done poorly. That is why I think it will take more time for the D to start working, they just haven’t learned it yet.
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