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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Bucs In A Must-Win Game Against Browns
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Cleveland Browns game is the most critical game in Dirk Koetter’s three years as Tampa Bay’s head coach.
Wait a minute – this isn’t the Falcons, the Saints or the Panthers we’re talking about.
This is the lowly Browns, right?
You know, Cleveland … the team that went 1-15 in Hue Jackson’s first year as head coach in 2016 and the team that went 0-16 last year?
Well, the Browns aren’t that bad anymore in Jackson’s third year. Ask the Steelers, who tied the Browns in Week 1. Ask the Ravens, who lost 12-9 in overtime in Cleveland two weeks ago.
While the Bucs defense has been consistently bad all year, the Browns defense held the Saints to just 21 points in a 21-18 loss at New Orleans in Week 2, and the Ravens to nine points. But Cleveland also gave up 45 points to the Raiders in a 45-42 loss and 38 points to the Chargers in a 38-14 home loss last week, so there is a real chance the Bucs’ high-powered offense can expose Cleveland’s defense.
So what makes this the most important game in the Koetter era?
The Bucs are 2-3 with three straight losses right now, and a fourth straight defeat would clearly enrage a grumpy and restless Tampa Bay fan base. Last year, the Bucs had two five-game losing streaks en route to a disappointing 5-11 record.
Besides, the upcoming schedule after Cleveland has Tampa Bay traveling to Cincinnati (4-2) and Carolina (3-2) and then a home game against Washington (3-2). The Bucs better beat the Browns, as there is a big, big difference between a 3-3 team and a 2-4 team.
At 3-3, the Bucs would be one win away from being back over .500. At 2-4, it would take three consecutive wins to get over .500 with a 5-4 record. Such is life in the NFL and its 16-game schedule – where every game is important.
But why is it so critical that the Bucs beat the Browns?
Because psychologically Cleveland is the worst team in the last three years – a decade really – and a loss at home this Sunday would mean that the Bucs are a worse team than the lowly Browns.
Titans QB Marcus Mariota – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
A loss to Cleveland would be worse than the 41-17 loss at Raymond James Stadium to Tennessee to start the 2015 season. You remember, don’t you? Jameis Winston threw a pick-six on his first NFL pass attempt, while nemesis Marcus Mariota threw four touchdowns in his first NFL game.
Longtime Bucs fans – I’m talking about the fans that watched the team in the 1970s and 80s – know what it’s like to have their team be the laughingstock of football. After the glory days of the Dungy and Gruden years with the pinnacle coming in the team’s lone Super Bowl berth and win in 2002, the last thing Tampa Bay fans want is to become the laughing stock of the NFL again.
The Bucs have come perilously close over the last decade.
There was the 0-7 start to the Raheem Morris era in 2009, followed by a 0-10 record to end the 2011 campaign, which sealed Morris’ fate.
There was the 0-8 start to the 2013 season, which was Greg Schiano’s final year.
Of course there was Lovie Smith’s ridiculous 2-12 record in his first season in Tampa Bay in 2014.
Last year could have ended with six straight losses and a disappointing 4-12 record if not for a miracle deep pass connection between Jameis Winston and Chris Godwin to beat the Saints late in the fourth quarter to boost the Bucs’ record to 5-11.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
A 2-4 start and a loss to the Browns on Sunday wouldn’t necessarily doom the Bucs. There are still 10 games left in the season. But the psychological blow would be tough for the players and the organization to overcome, and just might be impossible for the Tampa Bay fan base to overcome.
This is a big, big, big game for Koetter, new Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mark Duffner and the Buccaneers. They’ve already lost in an embarrassing fashion to second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this year. A defeat at home at the hands of rookie Baker Mayfield would be disastrous.
How could fans not call for the firing of Koetter and likely general manager Jason Licht, too if the Browns beat the Bucs? Unless he plays a perfect game, if Winston threw a pick or lost a fumble that contributed to the loss, fans would want him run out of town, too.
Heck, I could see an enraged fan base seething over a loss to the Browns and wanting the Glazers to sell the team and get out of Tampa, too.
Am I wrong?
Browns QB Baker Mayfield – Photo by: Getty Images
If the Browns beat the Bucs the only thing that will save a lot of people their jobs at One Buccaneer Place is for Tampa Bay is to somehow go 8-2 down the stretch and make the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
Do you see the Bucs going 8-2 over the final 10 games? I don’t.
For Koetter, Duffner and the Buccaneers this is as “must-win” as it gets. Win, and avoid disaster. A 2-4 start all but sinks the Bucs’ ship this year.
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
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