Before Week 1’s first meeting between Tampa Bay and Carolina, there was plenty of hope and optimism heading into the 2014 season.
Now, over three months later, both teams have failed to live up to those expectations. Yet, for the Panthers, they still find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt. As for the Buccaneers, with the postseason officially out of reach, this game will serve as a progression test.
On Friday, Bucs head coach Lovie Smith spoke of the Week 1 rematch as good indicator of improvement. While they know where they stand as a team from an individual standpoint, the head coach alluded to all the new players since their, 20-14, loss as a sign of promise.
“There are some football players that we didn’t count on as we started the season,” Smith said. “I’m talking about some of our younger players that have a big role right now. Bradley McDougald, I don’t think he played the first game and he’s starting for us now. We like him as a safety. Jacquies Smith didn’t play at all in the first game. His six sacks are about as good as some of the outstanding pass rushers that you have in the league. T.J. Fatinikun, nobody for sure knew how to pronounce his name the first time we played. We all kind of know it a little bit right now. Danny Lansanah, too. As a football team, that’s a positive part”
It’s true that the Buccaneers have come a long way since September. Every player Smith mentioned has been a bright spot in an otherwise dim season.
But of course, there’s a reason why the team is 2-11. And as Smith concluded his praise for said players, he turned to the contrary; underperforming starters.
“On the other side, there were some players that we were counting on to play a little bit better; that happens,” Smith said. “We know quite a bit more about our team now. We’d like to think that we’ve improved in quite a few areas.”
Many of the new faces in those “few areas” got their opportunity because of the disappointing performances of previous starters, whom the team relied on. If only the Buccaneers began the season with Jacquies Smith instead of William Gholston, or Bradley McDougald instead of Mark Barron. Maybe they’d still be in the division race.
But whether or not the overall team has improved since the beginning of the year is still up for debate. But with playoffs out of the question, Sunday’s Week 1 rematch, at the very least, will provide a good comparison between the 0-0 Buccaneers and the 2-11 Buccaneers.
“I definitely think it will,” Smith said “As you mentioned, we kind of set the bar the first time we played them. It was also the first game of the season. Lets see where we are. You definitely would like to see that (improvement) this week during the game.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: email@example.com
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