Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
I invite you to offer me some feedback on The Hook below in the article comments section.
We all bought into the hype.
The fans did.
Even many in the media – both locally and nationally – did too.
Add Tom Brady at quarterback, sprinkle in some Rob Gronkowski at tight end, draft a number of rookie contributors, combine that with a second year of a Todd Bowles defense, you throw in some water, a little Florida beach sand, stir it all up and there you have it – a Super Bowl team in Tampa Bay.
In the words of ESPN College Game Day personality Lee Corso – not so fast, my friend.
COVID-19 helped derail things for the Buccaneers in 2020.
Too high of expectations helped derail things for the Buccaneers.
Losing star nose tackle Vita Vea in the middle of the defense helped derail things for the Buccaneers.
But maybe it was all about 2021 anyway.
In fact it is looking more and more like that will have to be the case when projecting Tampa Bay as a Super Bowl team.
Sure, Bruce Arians and his staff are trying to win a Super Bowl this year. And who wouldn’t be happy with a second Lombardi Trophy in the lobby at One Buccaneer Place as soon as possible?
But realistically that is a long shot. We all know a few wild card teams that have gotten hot at the right time, won three road playoff games and then a world championship. The Bucs are all too familiar with a Giants team that came to Tampa Bay in 2007 and emerged victorious en route to beating Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl that year. And also a Green Bay squad that nudged out Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot after both teams finished 10-6. The Packers won a Super Bowl in 2010.
It can happen.
But will it with this year’s Bucs team?
I have my doubts.
The road to Raymond James Stadium in February likely goes through New Orleans or maybe Green Bay, Los Angeles or Seattle. I think the Bucs would welcome a chance for a rematch against the Rams, and would be confident taking on the Packers again, although that game would be played in Green Bay in January where the average temperature is a high of 26 degrees with a low of nine degrees.
Do any fans think the Buccaneers, who were beaten twice already by the Saints this season, would stand a chance against Sean Payton and Drew Brees a third time?
I mean not many people in ancient times were wagering too many of their sheep when David took on Goliath, either.
Upsets can happen, but there is a reason they are called upsets in the first place.
Before we can even talk a Super Bowl, the Bucs need to make the playoffs. That happens for sure if they can win two of their next three games, and I think they will. I believe somehow the Falcons win one of the two games they play against the Bucs, but Tampa Bay beats the Lions on the road. As long as they can handle Detroit and can split with the Falcons they are in the postseason. Then who knows what happens?
In order to win in the playoffs a team needs to be humming on all cylinders. The Bucs might be running on all eight, but they definitely have a spark plug wire or distributor that isn’t running optimally. Can Bruce Arians and Bowles get under the hood and get it fixed in time? I’m not counting on it happening over the next three weeks. In fact, while Tampa Bay doesn’t need an entire engine overhaul, it could use an offseason tune-up.
The good news for the Bucs is the Saints have put all their eggs in their 2020 basket to win a Super Bowl this season. Their salary cap situation was a mess even before the revenue drop from COVID-19 and are projected to be $93,716,739 over the cap next season, and that is without Drew Brees on the books if he were to choose to return. New Orleans will have to make some serious roster cuts in the offseason – and that will mean parting ways with some of the team’s star players.
By comparison, the Buccaneers are projected to have $32,459,564 in cap space to start the 2021 new NFL year. Of course as Scott Reynolds pointed out in his latest SR’s Fab 5 the Bucs will still have to be creative in how they spend that money, as they have a number of unrestricted free agents they will need to retain.
The Falcons aren’t in great shape either for 2021 with $25,254,296 over the cap with just 32 players signed. Add in the fact there will be a lot of roster turnover and a new head coach and general manager and Atlanta, which is 4-9 right now, could actually be worse in 2021.
That leaves the NFC South door wide open with the Bucs and Panthers fighting to get through it first. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been overly impressed with Matt Rhule and his staff in Carolina so far. They’ve lost a lot of close games, and in many cases close losses come down to late-game coaching decisions.
Also, is Teddy Bridgewater good enough to out-duel Tom Brady? Is he even good enough to take offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s system to the next level? I think the Panthers could use a more dynamic play-maker under center to really maximize what Carolina would like to do offensively. Bridgewater is winless in his last seven starts and has thrown just eight touchdowns and five interceptions during that span.
So, on paper at least, the Bucs appear to be the favorites for NFC South supremacy in 2021 – regardless of how the team finishes the 2020 season. Yet we all know paper means little, as games are won on Sundays on the field. But if you are a Bucs fan, you have to be excited for this team to actually have an offseason next spring. You have to be excited for the team to actually have a full set of OTAs, mini-camps, training camp and preseason games, and for Brady to become even more comfortable in Arians’ offense.
You can’t count out the Buccaneers to make a Super Bowl run this year because if they get into the playoffs anything could happen. But what you really need to be excited about is Tampa Bay’s 2021 season.
I bought into the hype this year. Most of us did.
But 2020 ultimately may prove to be just a warm-up for bigger and better things in 2021.
Cook’s musings and ramblings about the Buccaneers and the NFL. Good stuff. Check it out.
• Assistant head coach coach and running game coordinator Harold Goodwin might be my favorite of all the assistants on this Bucs staff. The way he speaks his mind with little filter to the media makes me wonder how even more to the point he is when dealing with players behind closed doors. Goodwin has been trying to hold the NFL accountable for their lack of movement in hiring of head coaches and front office executives but also holds himself accountable along with his players.
When we first met Goodwin in January of 2019 in the media center for his introductory news conference, he spoke about his aspirations to become a head coach in the NFL, and the obstacles he has encountered,
“Here’s my deal, I had that title (offensive coordinator) for five years, where did it get me?” Goodwin said. “Every time I went in the interview [they said], ‘You didn’t call plays.’ I called plays. B.A. (Bruce Arians) let me call plays in preseason, but he wasn’t going to give it up [in the regular season]. I called plays in preseason. And are we looking for play-callers or are we looking for leaders? We’re looking for leaders of men – leaders that can help build an organization from the ground up on the football side.”
Nearly two years later Goodwin still wants the opportunity, but isn’t sure it will ever come. I asked him about that on Wednesday.
“The biggest thing is just give us an opportunity,” Goodwin said. “I’ve sat at that table three times for sure where I was trying to sell myself as a coach and as a leader and it didn’t work out for myself. I just think the NFL, whatever they do is a positive. I’m just to the point now in my career – it is what it is. This conversation has been going on for years and years and years, and until I see change and things actually happen, I’m not going to worry about it anymore. At the end of the day I’m going to leave it in God’s hands, I’m tired of worrying about it, it is what it is. I’ll just leave it at that.”
NFL owners who read this – and I am sure that number is zero – when you begin your coaching search this offseason, make sure Goodwin is on you list. Let the man sit down and tell you why he would be a good candidate. See the passion and desire he has and tell me you don’t come away impressed. I bet you won’t be able to. And who knows, maybe when Arians decides to walk away, Goodwin is still on the staff and takes over. Of all the current Bucs assistants, there is no one I’d rather see the Glazers hire more than Goodwin.
• Man, times have changed. I don’t remember a team that has had two players break fingers that required surgery and pins inserted in my whole writing career, yet 13 games in and two Buccaneers had to have surgery and to have pins inserted? How bad were these breaks? Was the bone sticking out?
Didn’t Ronnie Lott have a team doctor cut off part of his broken pinkie so he could finish the season and avoid injured reserve? Former Atlanta Journal columnist Lewis Grizzard once had the end of his finger fall off while playing golf due to a blood clot, and proceeded to use it as a ball marker over the last nine holes.
I remember at football practice in 1984 fracturing my middle finger early in youth league practice when it got hung in a hole in this kid’s jersey as I tossed him aside in a drill. My dad was one of the coaches and he took me to the side, grabbed a roll of tape and a popsicle stick and I was back to practicing before the next water break.
Just kidding, we didn’t get water breaks unless we were having an excellent practice. And if by some strange occurrence we were practicing well, don’t be at the end of the line because there was only one water hose and after the first kid flushed the spiders and dirt daubers out, there wasn’t much time left in our water break.
Seriously, there were no pins inserted or surgery back in the day. In fact, my mom had an argument with my dad that night if I should evengo to the doctor the next day to get an X-ray. My dad’s argument was, all they are going to do is just tape it up anyway. Well my mom won the argument, but my dad won the battle as after the doctor confirmed it was broken, the doc got out a popsicle stick and some tape. True story.
And poor Scott Reynolds, I am not sure how many know this, but he broke his index finger blocking a punt in high school. And I can assure you there were no pins inserted. In fact, to this day don’t ever ask him for directions because when he points you can’t tell if he is saying turn left, right, or straight down at the next light because his finger is so jacked up.
I’m not minimizing the injuries to Chris Godwin and now Ronald Jones II, but it’s a broken finger. Someone go get some tape and a popsicle stick – my dad can be at One Buc Place in an hour.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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