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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. A YEAR LATER, KOETTER MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE FOR BUCS
We’re back to where we started from a year ago. The New Orleans Saints are coming to town with four games left in the season. Tampa Bay is in position for a playoff run.

The Saints game – at home – is where it all unraveled for Lovie Smith’s Buccaneers. Winners of three of its last four games, Tampa Bay was 6-6 and poised to make a dash to the postseason. That’s when it all fell apart.

Before a near sellout crowd at Raymond James Stadium, Bucs head coach Lovie Smith took exception to a profane pre-game tirade by wide receiver Russell Shepard and kneecapped a team captain in front of the squad at Shepard’s fever pitch, killing any buzz he just generated. The result?

Saints head coach Sean Payton and Bucs head coach Lovie Smith - Photo by: Getty Images

Saints head coach Sean Payton and Bucs head coach Lovie Smith – Photo by: Getty Images

Instead of frothing at the mouth like a pack of wild dogs, the Bucs were spanked by Smith before they took the field and they came out flat against the Saints, trailing 14-0 early in the first quarter. Tampa Bay would lose, 24-17, and that defeat would start a four-game losing skid that ultimately cost Smith his job.

A year later, the Bucs are set to take the field against the Saints before a nearly sold out Raymond James Stadium with four games left. Tampa Bay is better positioned for a postseason run because it enters the game with a 7-5 record thanks to a four-game winning streak, and because it has a much better coach leading the team.

I called for Smith to be fired twice last year and replaced by Koetter – once following the 31-30 loss at Washington in Week 7, which saw Tampa Bay squander a 24-0 lead, and again after an embarrassing 26-21 loss to Chicago in Week 16.

Now you’re seeing why I wanted Koetter to take over this team. Thankfully general manager Jason Licht and the Glazers were of the same opinion.

Not all the Bucs believed in Smith. They all believe in Koetter.

This Tampa Bay team is playing with an edge this season. Koetter coaches with an edge, too.

Koetter doesn’t discourage Shepard’s profanity-ridden pre-game rants. He encourages them.

And Koetter added his own amount of swagger after last week’s comeback win at San Diego when he told his players to be humble in post-game interviews and to “speak softly, but carry a big mother#$%*ing stick!”

The team roared in approval. The Bucs love this guy.

“He’s doing a great job as our head coach,” Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans said. “He’s bringing a certain swagger that everyone around here likes. He understands the players.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“Last year he was the OC, so we saw him more than anybody. It’s good to have him and a second year in this offense. Now we’re a lot more familiar with this offense. It’s just been going good for us all around and hopefully we continue to do well.”

Doing well would mean beating the Saints on Sunday and maintaining at least a partial lead in the NFC South as the Bucs inches closer to a winning season and a possible playoff berth. The loss to New Orleans this time last year was a bitter pill for Tampa Bay to swallow.

“I remember I had an opportunity to get a big first down, and I didn’t get it,” Evans said. “That’s what I remember most. It was the fourth quarter and we were driving to score, you know I dropped it, I guess. Yeah it was a drop, it was a catchable pass, I dropped it, and that’s what I remember most about that game.”

The loss to the Saints was more painful for Bucs nose tackle Akeem Spence – literally.

“The first thing I remember was getting hurt that game because that was my last game of the year,” said Spence, who succumbed to an ankle injury that kept him out of the final three games of the season. “We just came out flat. The Saints jumped on us early and we weren’t able to recover on defense or offense.”

The loss to the Saints was painful in a different way for middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, who began his four-game suspension for PED use by missing the New Orleans game.

“My impression of that game was ‘Damn, I messed up and I can’t play,’” Alexander said. “I watched the game on TV – I watched every game on TV, praying for the team and the guys they did pretty good. But you know, we’ve got to finish all our games. We’ve got to win them all. We’re on a whole new year now, and that’s the goal – to win them all.”

This year, Alexander, who leads the Bucs with 97 tackles, will be on the field to take on Drew Brees and the Saints’ potent offense, and that will make a big difference.

“When Kwon went down last year it hurt us because he’s one of the best players on our team,” Evans said. “He’s here now, though, so we’ll see what happens Sunday.”

The Bucs aren’t taking Brees and the Saints lightly, especially considering that New Orleans is 8-2 vs. Tampa Bay over the last 10 games, and has won the last five games at Raymond James Stadium, but they are expecting a different outcome this year.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and Saints QB Drew Brees - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs QB Jameis Winston and Saints QB Drew Brees – Photo by: Getty Images

“We have some better wins under our belt [this year as opposed to last year],” Shepard said. “I mean we played and beat some guys who I wouldn’t be surprised if they played in the Super Bowl in a year. Special teams is playing amazing this year, the offense is doing a great job, and the defense has definitely turned around. I feel a different vibe this year than last year when we were going on that four-game skid.”

There is a different vibe thanks to a different head coach.

Koetter’s preseason message to the team was to play loose, have fun and show the league just how good these Buccaneers are. It took awhile – a humbling 3-5 start that tested the fans’ patience – but they are doing just that when it matters the most.

Koetter’s biggest offseason move – hiring defensive coordinator Mike Smith – took awhile to pay off, but this Smith’s defense has proven to be much better than the other Smith’s. With four games left, the 2016 Tampa Bay defense has already matched last year’s interception (11) and defensive touchdown (three) production, and is just nine sacks away from tying last year’s mark of 38.

More importantly, since Week 10, the Bucs defense ranks first in points per game, takeaways and opposing QB passer rating. The defense is playing much better now than it was a year ago when it allowed an average of 29.75 points per game over the last four weeks of the season en route to a 6-10 season.

A year ago, the loss to the Saints started the wheels in motion that ultimately led to Koetter taking over in Tampa Bay. But despite the set of familiar circumstances with the New Orleans coming to town to begin a four-game stretch that will determine if the Bucs finish 7-9, 11-5 or somewhere in between, Koetter isn’t looking back on what’s transpired. He’s only looking forward.
 
“Kind of similar for who? Not for me, not similar for me at all, so I don’t live in the past like that,” Koetter said. “We’ve got no reason to visit anything except what’s happening right now. We don’t have any reason to go – I’m not saying [the players] might not, or they might. Some players might, but in my opinion, there’s no similarities [to last season].”

A win on Sunday against the Saints would definitely chart a new course for the Buccaneers in the month of December through the end of the regular season where Tampa Bay has been 7-31 from 2008-15 during that timeframe. It would also be a milestone for Koetter, who with eight wins would be the second-most successful rookie head coach in Tampa Bay history, passing Greg Schiano.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Getty Images

Regular Season Records of Rookie Head Coaches In Tampa Bay
12-4 – Jon Gruden – 2002
7-5 – Dirk Koetter – 2016*

7-9 – Greg Schiano – 2012
6-10 – Tony Dungy – 1996
5-11 – Sam Wyche – 1992
4-12 – Ray Perkins – 1987
3-13 – Raheem Morris – 2009
3-13 – Richard Williamson – 1991
2-14 – Lovie Smith – 2014
2-14 – Leeman Bennett – 1985
0-14 – John McKay – 1976

Eight wins would also guarantee the Bucs of their first non-losing season since the team finished 10-6 in 2010. An 8-5 record would also put Tampa Bay three games above .500. The highest the Bucs have previously been above .500 over the past six years was by two games when the team went 6-4 under Schiano in 2012.

A victory over the Saints would also give Tampa Bay its first five-game winning streak since 2002 – and a feat accomplished only four other times in franchise history (1979, 1997, 1999 and 2002). A win on Sunday and Koetter he ties Lovie Smith’s win total in Tampa Bay over a two-year period – and with three games left to increase his win total.

In just his first season in Tampa Bay, Koetter has already surpassed Richard Williamson’s four wins as head coach from 1990-91 and Leeman Bennett’s four wins as head coach from 1985-86. By next year Koetter should eclipse Schiano’s 11 wins in Tampa Bay, Ray Perkins’ 13 wins and possibly Raheem Morris’ 17 victories.

There’s a lot riding on Sunday against the Saints both for Koetter and his Buccaneers. All that’s assured thus far is a seven-win season that will only feel slightly better than last year’s 6-10 mark if another four-game collapse takes place.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and Seahawks head coach Peter Carroll - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and Seahawks head coach Peter Carroll – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

But I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.

I don’t think Koetter will let that happen.

Do you?

This is what I envisioned when I wanted Koetter to take over in Tampa Bay.

This is what I envisioned when I was the lone media member and Bucs beat writer to predict a 10-6 record and a playoff berth this season. I’ll admit that the season didn’t unfold quite the way I thought it would with a 3-5 record at one point. Yet I did predict the Bucs would be 7-5 at this juncture with a critical home game against the Saints lurking.

But don’t praise me. I haven’t done a damn thing other than chronicle the remarkable job this rookie head coach has done.

Praise Koetter and what he, his staff and his players have done this year in changing the Bucs’ fortunes and possibly making this a December to remember in Tampa Bay.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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: sr@pewterreport.com
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Iowabucfan
4 years ago

Coach Koetter is exactly what this team needed. I think Coach Smith, “Smitty”, is excellent also. I don’t see the slant being easily completed anymore. I saw his post game speech on the Bucs website, before the bleeped all of it. I was excited when he said “speak softly, but carry a big mother#$%*ing stick!”. Will ther be T-shirts made? I enjoyed your segment on Hargreaves. After going thru his “welcome to the NFL” moment, I feel like he is playing alike a veteran. Tipped passes and calling out routes. Congratulations to the young man. I believe in the “best… Read more »

RootsCrew
RootsCrew
4 years ago

Another great write up, Scott. I will admit I was skeptical of Dirk being named the head coach. Not because I wanted to keep Lovie, but because I wasn’t sure he was the answer the Bucs needed. I’m happy to be wrong. While I still have issues with how conservative he gets at time, and his 1st down runs up the gut, Dirk has energized this team with passion and a no bullshit attitude. He and Winston’s connection is what is driving this team. Dirk won’t win Coach of The Year, but he’s clearly elevated the play of the team… Read more »

e
e
4 years ago

Nice work, Scott… I imagine that you don’t get much sleep on Thursday nights. It’s fun watching the conversations on PR now evolve from “who’s to blame” to “speak softly and carry a big mother#$%*in’ stick!” You called the Koetter pick, but you were not on the Gravedigger train for most of last year. You desperately wanted that big guy on the Saints. Hargreaves is another great piece in the puzzle. USA TODAY is fluff… 28th best coaching/GM combo? All fuel for the fire. It’s great to not have to be talking about the draft again four weeks until the… Read more »

Naplesfan
4 years ago

Koetter has been great, and the reasons seem to come down to 1) he is very experienced in coaching at multiple levels, 2) he is very intelligent, recognizing when something isn’t working and when it is working and what to do about it in both cases, and, perhaps most importantly, 3) he is no bullshitter, whether with himself, his players, or the media (pardon the vulgarity, but it is the only term that makes sense in the real world). With Dirk, he tells you exactly how he sees it, no sugar coating, but he is also not afraid to offer… Read more »

Horse
4 years ago

Good Article Scott. I was one of the 5-7 wins people and I’m so glad i will be wrong! leadership is what this team is about. We will find a way to beat new Orleans because these guys believe they can win. sorry Scott, but whenever you praise KSU all I can think of is Josh Freeman. I believe we need a passrusher, safety, corner, linebacker in the draft. I think we have found our Center for the future in Gottschalk and Benenoch as our flex guy from OG to OT. Oh I have worn the same Buc shirt the… Read more »

chetthevette
Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

DO NOT WASH THAT SHIRT!!!
I used to play for the Manatee Hurricanes. Me and the entire O line would not wash our uniforms for the entire season.
Our right guard was a big old redneck and he would bring deer musk for us to spray on them also.
We were playing Southeast High one night and their defensive tackle just puked all over the field from the stench we were emitting.
We stank very bad. As a team too.
Loved every minute of it.
GO BUCS

Dbuc63
Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

chet- I was a Southeast Seminole late 80’s -early 90’s. Absolutely LOVED beating you guys 3 of 4!! Sadly, those rivalry’s have gone away…Played strong safety.

chetthevette
Reply to  Dbuc63
4 years ago

DB Sorry man missed you by 15 years. Be glad you played late 80 though. Manatee was awesome early 80’s.
Can’t remember the year, but went to the state final to watch the old team in Pensacola.
Emmit Smith was their running back. He got maybe 10 yards rushing.
Sweet

76Buc
Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

You’re not wrong yet my friend (7 wins).

76Buc
Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

Horse, you’re not wrong yet my friend (7 wins).

nitey
4 years ago

I think Jacksonville’s pick and release of Anger, and subsequent success with us, is a reason why the Buc fans need to give Aquayo some time. While I didn’t like the choice of Aquayo in the 2nd round last season and still consider it a mistake for a team that had other holes elsewhere. I don’t think we should panic and cast away Aquayo while he is adjusting to the NFL. There is a very fine line about giving a player enough time to succeed and knowing when to let go of a player because he’s proven to be a… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  nitey
4 years ago

Good point, nitey. Great NFL kickers quite often start out slow as rookies, then improve dramatically in the years to follow. The all time greatest kickers in terms of field goal percentage made include: 1) Dan Bailey (Cowboys) – 90.7% career; as a rookie he hit on 86.5%, which is one point less than Aguayo has averaged since Week 5 3) Steve Haushka (Seahawks) – 87.2% career; as a rookie he hit on only 50% of his FGA 4) Steven Gostkowski (Pats) – 87.1% (still slightly less than Aguayo since Week 5); as a rookie he hit on only 76.9%… Read more »

chetthevette
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

Thanks for breaking that down.
I did not see Morton Anderson on that list.
His career average 79.7%.
I thought he was the best ever, I think Roberto will be fine.
GO BUCS

Naplesfan
Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

I believe Morton Anderson holds the record on points scored. The partial list I quoted was from pro-football-reference.com ranking of kickers by percent of FGA. I think percent made is the relevant stat here, since some Bucs fans seem intent on roasting Aguayo for not hitting all of his FGA. Anderson’s points total is a reflection of making a modestly high percentage of his attempts along with the extraordinary length of his career @-- 25 seasons. It’s also a function of the number of attempts too .. it helps a kicker’s point total to be on a team with a… Read more »

chetthevette
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

I know he played on some shitty Saints teams.

Iowabucfan
Reply to  nitey
4 years ago

Amen, nitey!

VaBeachBucsFan
Reply to  nitey
4 years ago

I think Bryan Anger is the perfect example of a guy drafted high, kicked to the curb and then realizing his potential. I’ll be the first person lined up with a torch and pitchfork if we don’t see severe improvement by the end of next season.

drdneast
4 years ago

All seems great in Bucland but this team has had trouble handling success in the past. The media spotlight has begun to cast its bright shiny glare on the Bucs so we will see how they handle theit new found fame. I was encouraged by Jotter when he reminded his team to “stay humble.” Of course Love’s reaction to profanity was the first thing I thought about when he finished his sentence. The Bucs, as their record indicates, have always had trouble against Brees who is incredibly accurate. But if the Bucs can put pressures on him consistently, it improves… Read more »

arizonajoe
4 years ago

I think the part where they criticize Jason Licht is Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Roberto Aguayo. Two second round whiffs. Are all GMs going to be perfect? No. But second round picks should be good. Steve Keim who is often considered one of the best GMs in the NFL missed badly this year with first round pick Robert Nkemdiche. I am not big on change. I like holding on to guys and helping them improve as opposed to blowing things up (with the noted exception of Aguayo). This year has already been successful enough to keep everybody one for another few… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  arizonajoe
4 years ago

Aguayo isn’t a whiff. He’s a keeper, at least so far. He had a slow start in his first four games and he’s been well above average for the league ever since the game in Week 5, including winning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week as the first Buc to do so in years (2012, I believe). Licht is three out of three on his first rounders, including at least two pro bowlers this year and quite likely HOFers if they keep their health, and the third is doing great so far as a rookie. Across the league, half… Read more »

Iowabucfan
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

Preach it brother!

PissedOffBuc1988
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

Absolutely my friend

PissedOffBuc1988
Reply to  arizonajoe
4 years ago

Whiffing on draft pics doesn’t hurt when your ALWAYS trying to improve every position at any time as Jason light does. Asj is a distant memory thanks to light find Cameron brate. And as for aguayo, its all about patience. Letting him go would be an awful mistake. This should be his senior year at Florida state. He came out a year early and is easily the youngest place kicker in football. Let him grow like everyone else on the team. Kicking is harder than most realize. If it was so easy, every kicker would be like Justin tucker of… Read more »

Iowabucfan
Reply to  PissedOffBuc1988
4 years ago

Well said!!!

chetthevette
4 years ago

Well written as usual Scott. Go ahead and brag. After all you did predict this. It aint’ bragging if it’s true. After I saw the clip of Koetter throwing out a big ass MF bomb I liked him even more. Can you imagine a locker room in any sport where it is a no-no to speak freely. And yes I mean kussing your ass off if need be. Lovie Smith was just a tool period. Trying to turn mean ass players into choir boys. And make no mistake, all these players to have made it this far are mean dudes.… Read more »

MudManVA
4 years ago

Scott! What happened to the Fab 5 reaction piece you used to publish on Wednesday? Now that the BUCS have won 4 in a row you have discontinued the piece because of the lack of griping / content?! Ha Ha Another great Fab 5, and again always look forward to reading it. I used to read it after the game to have some reflection, but as the BUCS continue to amaze and I become more excited I can’t wait until Sunday night. My thoughts on Koetter are right on with yours. He is the right man at the right time,… Read more »

cgmaster27
4 years ago

I for one loved the hiring of coach Koetter. I couldn’t stand Lovie and was ecstatic to see the door hit him in the backside. Not sure if anyone saw, but Illinois point differential went form -6 the year before to -147, how pathetic a coach he really is. Coach has a way of remaining true to himself and telling it like it is and its so refreshing after listening to Lovie put reporters to sleep with his press conferences. It was also prudent and most important to keep coach with Jameis and let this offense grow together. What I… Read more »

76Buc
4 years ago

I love any coach that quotes Teddy Roosevelt to fire up his players.

chetthevette
Reply to  76Buc
4 years ago

Maybe we should issue big sticks to the fans at RayJay.
Be fun to watch security go ape shit.

EastEndBoy
4 years ago

USA Today can’t even suggest that Licht has made some head scratching decisions… — Aguayo (the worst draft day decision in Bucs history…and we have a lot of them), ASJ (if you have an issue with DUIs why take him), Zuttah (a top-tier Centre…still), Penn (LT on perhaps the best Oline in the AFC), Clayborn (starter), Miller (starter), Michael Johnson (nice one), Anthony Collins (makes M Johnson look like a good signing), Josh McCown (what was the point?), Oneil Cousins (known by Cleveland fans as the worst lineman in their history), George Johnson (what the heck was that forced trade… Read more »

stlbucsfan
Reply to  EastEndBoy
4 years ago

Thats not even counting Swearinger who wasnt good enough for us but ended up starting on the playoff bound Cardinals lol. Licht swings and misses just as often as he hits home runs. He stumbled up on Jameis and Im afraid that might be the one thing that overcomes all of his shortcomings bc that kid is special. He might be winning in spite of Lichts terrible moves early on but hopefully he gets it together bc it’s starting to look like we are stuck with the meathead.

cgmaster27
Reply to  EastEndBoy
4 years ago

The problem with your list is a couple things. No one is saying Licht hasn’t made some mistakes, and that includes free agency, you’re pumping up a coupleof those guys a bit much. Just because Clayborne and Miller start, that doesn’t make them good. They just play on teams that don’t have the rotation to have those two on the bench. And you can’t honestly believe that a good chunk of those players weren’t to appease Lovie. They were chosen to fit Lovies system, what ever that was. Sure Licht signs off of everything but I”m not convinced Lovie didn’t… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  cgmaster27
4 years ago

League wide, only about one quarter of all free agent signings are successes for the teams that sign them. Licht is not doing any worse than that, probably a little better after this year’s signing. Ayers has been a great addition to the D-line, and Brent Grimes has been very key to the vast improvement in our D-backs this season. In case some of you nitpickers haven’t yet noticed, over the last four games the Bucs defense has led the entire league in lowest points allowed – a massive turnaround from the first four weeks when we were bottom of… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  cgmaster27
4 years ago

Not referring to you, CG, as one of the “nitpickers” but to a couple others in this thread.

chetthevette
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 years ago

What the hell is a nit?

EastEndBoy
Reply to  cgmaster27
4 years ago

, “nobody is saying Licht hasn’t made some mistakes”…except Scott Reynolds. That was entire point…USA Today suggested Licht had made some mistakes, and Scott Reynolds tore into them, with quote after quote about how he hasn’t made any.

That was the whole post. I guess I wasn’t clear.

Naplesfan
Reply to  EastEndBoy
4 years ago

You have it exactly, precisely, and totally backwards about Licht’s drafting success … see my comment above in this thread.

Horse
Reply to  EastEndBoy
4 years ago

EastEndBoy; remember how fat and out of shape he would show up at camp? His body sure looks different now; part of it is because he changed his attitude when the Bucs said we don’t need you.

stlbucsfan
4 years ago

Glad Vernon is turning it around after a rough start. The duo of Licht/Koetter will improve in ranking if they continue to win. After a more in depth look at Licht Im willing to concede his FA classes have improved. The first was awful, the second class was bad and this most recent group is looking good. His drafts have not been bad aside from when he starts reaching for specialist like FB, KR, and K. He has not taken some players that could have made this team even better but Jameis is good enough that he will buy him… Read more »

Glen Davies
4 years ago

Aloha from rural Hawaii. Love all the stuff on PewteReport. Keeps me closer to our beloved Bucs. Coupla things…does anyone else notice how NFL keeps scheduling cold clime teams for our Nov/Dec home games?? Rarely have those games been played @-- RJS in Sept when our warm clime might be an aid. Instead, I remember Sapp chasing Favre in freezing temps, and Favre never being in our heat. This yr’s no different, with NFL changing to the late/last game. Sunday, the dome-trained Saints start @-- 4pm. Sure, it’s for better ratings/$$, etc, But… Also, where do we stand in NFL… Read more »

chetthevette
4 years ago

I’ve been to a game with zero temps. Aint no fun.

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