Every day, the pass rush gets a bit better. No, it isn’t, say, that of the ’85 Bears. But it’s growing, and it’s getting better. It isn’t benign anymore.

Every day, the coverage gets a little tighter. No, it isn’t the ’89 49ers. But it’s better, and it’s combative. It isn’t chasing receivers anymore.

Every day, the linebackers come up with the big play. No, they aren’t the ’79 Steelers. But they’re better, and they tackle crisply, and they know where the end zone is.

Every week, every game, the Tampa Bay Bucs defense gets better, smarter and hungrier. Every time out, at that time when there is a game to be won, they make plays. Their belief grows. Their competitiveness soars. Once again, you can smile when you see the Bucs defense take the field as it did in Sunday’s 28-21 win at San Diego, which was Tampa Bay’s fourth straight win and fifth straight victory on the road this year.

Bucs LBs Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs LBs Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images

For a month, it has been that way. They made Jay Cutler look confused … again. They shut down Alex Smith. They harassed Russell Wilson. And they snatched one away from Philip Rivers. For a month now, they have been the real deal. Call it the rebirth of the bruise.

If you’re asking, no, this defense doesn’t have the raw talent of the great Bucs teams. There is no Derrick Brooks, no Warren Sapp, no John Lynch, no Ronde Barber, and no Simeon Rice. But these guys play hard, and they seem to have begun to believe that someone in the huddle is going to make a play during the game.

“Our coach just made different calls for the stuff that they were hitting us with,” said Bucs linebacker Lavonte David about the team’s halftime adjustments. “It was a great adjustment at halftime. Guys came out playing harder, making an emphasis on getting the football out and creating takeaways. That’s what we were preaching on, guys staying resilient and staying in tune with everything that’s going on no matter what’s going on through the game. All we can do is just focus on getting better each play.”

Think about it. Vernon Hargreaves is better now than he was a month ago. Noah Spence is better. Robert Ayers is better. Bradley McDougald is better. This is a work in progress, and the good news is this: It’s progressing.

Think about it. Over their last four games, the Bucs have surrendered 53 points. That’s 13.25 points per game. A team can win with that.

Over their last four games, the Bucs have 11 takeaways (as many as their first eight games). A team can win with that. Over their last four games, the Bucs have a dozen sacks. A team can win with that, too.

Who saw this coming? After watching the Raiders and the Falcons take turns at spinning the Bucs in tiny circles, no one would have thought this team would have gotten so much so fast out of these defenders. Sure, it helped that the team got healthy. But that wasn’t all of it. Getting two takeaways a game – as the Bucs have for a month – doesn’t hurt, either.

Bucs S Keith Tandy - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs S Keith Tandy – Photo by: Getty Images

“We’re one of those teams that are starting to believe,” said Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. “It’s crazy what confidence can do when you start making plays. It starts to build on itself.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Smith – who should be the Bucs’ nominee for Assistant Coach of the Year –has credited improved communication. Were the Bucs speaking different languages earlier? And, furthermore, who cares?

Consider this: The Chargers had the ball five times in the second half. They scored seven points. They had two punts. They threw two picks.

In the third quarter, the Bucs punted to the Chargers’ 8-yard line. And you immediately thought: Good teams make a stop here.

The Bucs did better than that. On the first play of that drive, Hargreaves batted the ball away and David grabbed it and ran 15 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to make it 17-14 in the third quarter.

If that wasn’t big enough, go back to the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Chargers put together a 10-play drive for their last real shot at the game. Twice, the Chargers picked up a third down. But on second-and-one, Philip Rivers threw to the front corner of the end zone, and Keith Tandy intercepted it.

Ballgame.

It has gone this way lately. It is Chris Conte at the goal line against Kansas City. It is Alterraun Verner against Seattle. It is Robert Ayers against the Bears. And so on.

Look, the Bucs have played well enough on offense, too. Jameis Winston was good again, and although Mike Evans was surrounded, Cameron Brate was great.

Bucs LB Lavonte David - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images

But with the Bucs, you can see the growth on defense. Gerald McCoy has been a terror and has a team-high seven sacks. Ayers has been great. David has been possessed. Alexander is fierce.

And so you look at the season’s final month. The Bucs play New Orleans twice, and the Saints will be a chore twice. Dallas is ahead. Carolina is ahead.

So what? At this point, the Bucs have earned a shot. Look, there are only six teams in the NFL who have more than seven wins: New England, Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, Dallas and Detroit. No team in the NFC South has allowed fewer points than the Bucs.

In other words, the Bucs are closer to elite than we thought at any time in recent seasons. But these defensive backs aren’t matadors anymore. These defensive linemen no longer fluff the pillows of the opposing quarterbacks. The linebackers keep taking the ball away.

Me? I can’t wait until tomorrow.

These guys get better every day.

No one has won more awards, including two national Associated Press Sports Editors Best Columnist awards and eight top 10 finishes, than the legendary Gary Shelton, former sports columnist of the St. Petersburg Times. Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can.

Shelton just received his sixth Sportswriter of the Year award for Florida by the NSSA, and no one has seen more big events, including 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics and 11 Final Fours. Shelton still goes into the locker room to obtain his stories.

And no one has made you angrier, or laugh louder, or think harder about what he has written. Simply put, no one has covered Tampa Bay sports like Shelton has. Now you can read Shelton daily on GarySheltonSports.com and follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton

Bucs fans can enjoy Shelton’s weekly post-game column on the Bucs following every Tampa Bay game exclusively on PewterReport.com, and our readers are encouraged to subscribe to GarySheltonSports.com for all of his expert commentary on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays, USF, Florida, Florida State and all of the sports teams and sports figures in the national spotlight.

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About the Author: Gary Shelton

Legendary sports columnist Gary Shelton returns to PewterReport.com for his second season of providing post-game commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers like no one else can. No one has won more sports writing awards than Shelton, who has covered Tampa Bay area sports for decades with his unique brand of humor and insight. Bucs fans can Shelton daily on GarySheltonSports.com and follow him on Twitter at @Gary_Shelton
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chefboho
4 years ago

I’m right there with ya. It’s like Christmas every Sunday recently. What a gift this team has turned out to be

artpac
4 years ago

We are growing. Hargreaves may be our most talented corner ever (yes I am aware he has a long way to go to surpass the production of Donnie Abraham much less Ronde). McCoy is staying healthy better and the production is there. David is making the big plays. Alexander is making some plays. And I love what I am seeing from Spence.

macabee
4 years ago

I’ve seen quite a few teams come and go – Buc teams that is – good ones, bad ones – ones just so! What we have here is a pretty good football team, folks! No matter what the score or stadium played, they believe they can win – and winning they are! It feels so good to be able to sit back and watch these young victors ply their craft. We should stop worrying whether Lavonte David can still play or whether Keith Tandy can be a suitable replacement at safety. We should just believe and join the extended family… Read more »

macabee
4 years ago

Remember last year Lovie Smith would not permit no cussin’ (sic cursing) in the locker room. Well, the times they are a changin’ folks and likewise the culture is changing. In Koetter’s victory locker room speech, right after giving Lavonte David the game ball, he laid a few Teddy Roosevelt words of wisdom on them and as Chef Emeril would say, he kicked it up a notch. Going away he reminded them to “Speak softly and carry a big mother f*$%’n stick!” Now I could be wrong, but I think that might be a sign of a culture change! Go… Read more »

Iowabucfan
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

Just saw that. I give that a mother f*$%’n hell yea!

Naplesfan
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

Extra points for the Teddy Roosevelt reference.

jongruden
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

Cussing has no bearing on anything, Walsh and Belichich didn’t cuss but Parcels did I just don’t think it matters,

cgmaster27
Reply to  jongruden
4 years ago

I don’t think it’s about the cussin Jon, it’s about the mindset of the team. It’s the energy and jubilation of knowing you don’t have to have a filter when you come to work. I think it makes a huge difference, not because of the cussing itself, but because of the mindset it creates when your coach takes a team captains speech off at the knees pregame that can kill a teams drive.

seat26
4 years ago

Let’s not get to over confident. I am thrilled that we are where we are. But basically it was only a month ago when we were looking down the barrel of another horrific season. We have scratched out a few very good wins against decent teams. We still have a long way to go, and we are very thin at several crucial positions, one of which is Receiver. If anything happens to Evans, or Martin or Winston, we are in big trouble.

Naplesfan
Reply to  seat26
4 years ago

It matters not how confident we fans are. We have zilch to do with the performance on the field. It matters that the players don’t get over confident… but it also matters that they not be under-confident too. They need to believe in themselves so that when they get behind in the score on the board, and get in a difficult situation with key players forced out by injury, that they not stop believing in their ability to win. I think that we have great leaders on the team, both offense and defense, and great coaches too, who are clearly… Read more »

BUC 727
4 years ago

you’re correct Seat26. We are razorthin at reciever. I think it may be time to activate Huff, and maybe bring Randy Moss out of mothballs…IJS

scubog
4 years ago

Always love your comments macabee. I too have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly. Somehow this team, in spite of the obvious weaknesses as so adeptly pointed out by buzz killing Seat 26, it plays hard and is no longer cowering in the face of adversity as in years past. I’ve experienced wins over the years that somehow felt like losses. Often, folks would want to put an asterisk by it to not receive full credit. This season those wins are deserved. The asterisk should be on the losses to the Rams and Raiders as those games should… Read more »

jongruden
Reply to  scubog
4 years ago

Scu stop kissing up to Macabee ha

macabee
Reply to  jongruden
4 years ago

Jon,

It’s your old friend macabee! I’m just in time to come to your aid again. As you have before, you’ve again confused kissing up with pissing down. One would think that with the all the moisture (corrective comments) you’ve received from Scu and me, by now you would have come in out of the rain. Come inside son. It’s not rain! ha

jongruden
Reply to  macabee
4 years ago

Macabee- I give Scu a hard time I sat with he and his wife for game as his guest, he is a huge smart ass and he gives me a hard time for liking the Cards so yeah, he can take some ribbing for kissing your ass, haha

macabee
Reply to  jongruden
4 years ago

Well then, that makes me your friend too! And err……sorry about the rain! haha

scubog
Reply to  jongruden
4 years ago

JonnyG is just jealous. I like your posts too JonnyG………….well some of them.

Naplesfan
4 years ago

As Mr. Shelton wrote, it’s the progress … the progress. This defense has clearly grown together over the course of the season. Unlike Shelton, I am not ready to write these guys off as lesser talented than the great Bucs defenders of old, however. I believe Lavonte David is just as talented as Derrick Brooks. Gerald McCoy is a different kind of DT than Sapp, but I believe he is just as talented, and for the first time in his entire career, unlike Sapp, he is getting quality support on the D-line, and it clearly shows. I believe Noah Spence… Read more »

Ron Gibson
Ron Gibson
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

IMO, Ayers was the addition that brought the DL alive. He is a great run stopper and contains his side allowing the other players to get after the QB. Notice how we tanked when he was out and then as soon as he is back life became very difficult for opposing QBs.

scubog
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

What Brooks and Sapp had was swagger. Not sure I’ve seen it from David and McCoy to the level of our two HOF’s. Maybe in time, but not just yet.

Garv
4 years ago

Love it Gary! I must disagree on one thing though. I think there IS a lot of raw talent on the defense! Alexander, Hargreaves and Noah Spence are going to be stars! We now have depth on the DL. McCoy and David seem to be back on track, McCoy for yet another Pro Bowl at least.

And next man up? The well coached Buccaneers having been doing that all season on both sides of the ball.

DAMN this is fun! Saints at home for a playoff atmosphere game next Sunday? HELL YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

fredster
4 years ago

Was so obvious this team was going the wrong way with Lovie. We have the right coaches now and I always believed that. Yes the depth is an issue and we saw that with the injuries how bad it can go quickly. I never bought the BS about not having enough talent to win now. Young team and finally getting confidence.

Been long time since I had this much fun watching my Bucs play the last 4 games. Very long time.

Go Bucs!

Ron Gibson
Ron Gibson
Reply to  fredster
4 years ago

However the staff has done an amazing jobs finding players on the streets to come in and help with the injuries we have had. This is the best I have seen the Bucs react to losing players to injury in decades.

Horse
4 years ago

This team is finding ways to win. They believe in themselves and this is what makes a good team. Go Bucs! Lets get those Saints!

jongruden
4 years ago

Football is fun again in Tampa which hasn’t happened in awhile now maybe these fans can stop seeing their tix to visiting fans and actually go to the game again so we can stop hearing Scu talk about how he has to be surrounded by fans clamoring for opposing team. Confidence is everything in the NFL and swagger once you get it you can beat anyone once you lose it you can lose to anybody, the Bucs have it right now and they will make the playoffs this yr.

scubog
Reply to  jongruden
4 years ago

I’ll never stop complaining about the fans who repeatedly sell their tickets to the enemy. Treason I say, treason!

jongruden
4 years ago

Selling not seeing*

Ron Gibson
Ron Gibson
4 years ago

Yes they are learning Smith’s defense and thriving in a very complex scheme. The down side to that is the rest of the league is watching and I’d be shocked if Smith does not at least get an interview for a HC position. We need someone to be his understudy so we do not have to change the defense again if he gets hired away.

OTOH, I think the Bucs have some good years ahead and Smith may decide he has a better chance to get a ring here than jumping to another team.

cgmaster27
Reply to  Ron Gibson
4 years ago

I wouldn’t be to worried about that after this season. For all we know, he might see this as a better job for him. Less of the headache of head coaching and he’s working with an old friend in Koetter. At least I hope that’s how he feels. He’s getting into a groove and he adapted his scheme around what the players do better. That’s what good coaches do and it’s paid off big time for us.

Pick6
4 years ago

my standards for lovie smith weren’t all that unreasonable. i just wanted to see the team getting better with relative consistency. that didn’t happen and for that reason i felt the firing was 100% warranted. now we are seeing what i (and i assume team Glazer) have been looking for since Raheem’s Youngry Bunch regressed unbeleivably in 2011. guys settling into their role and coaches making adjustments as they learn what does and doesn’t work for the players they have on the field

SenileSenior
4 years ago

I am with you, macabee.

Good times have arrived now! …. and for the foreseeable future, too!

GOOOOOOO BUCS!!!!