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.
It’s time, Bucs fans.
What seemed like just a dream a year ago is upon us. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday in Super Bowl LV and do so in their home stadium.
A new quarterback, a second-year coaching staff, a losing franchise, no offseason and all in the middle of a pandemic – it sounds like a cross between a science fiction movie and and a Disney feel-good film.
But here is your reality.
And as super as the Bucs are in 2020, they will be even better in 2021.
Yes you heard it correctly. The 2021 version will be a “new and improved” version of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I got to the pros and wanted to be a consistent, dependable player and every year just tried to improve my game a little bit,” said Brady on Wednesday. “Going to have to keep improving it. As long as I’m playing, I want to improve and get better. I think next year is going to be a lot better than this year. I feel like I’ll be in a much better place mentally. I’m going to train a lot better – physically next year I’ll be in a better place. I know as soon as this game ends, we’re on to next season. We’ll get ready for this [game], then start thinking about next year.”
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
Brady’s quote also puts to bed the notion if Tampa Bay wins he might ride off in the sunset and retire. Same thing goes for head coach Bruce Arians, who emphatically said he will be back next season.
Win or lose, the gang will be back together for another go-around, and who knows? Maybe even another year after that, as Brady said this week he could see himself playing even beyond age 45.
But how will the Bucs be better in 2021 than 2020 – a year that saw them win 11 regular season games?
First of all, the biggest factor will be a team that – fingers crossed – will have a normal offseason to put in the work it missed this past offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Arians guessed the players missed between 400-500 reps without an offseason. Combine that with no preseason and if you add in those plays missed, plus all the OTA and mini-camp reps, it easily is in the 500-snap range. Players can study film, workout in their backyard or local high school field while meeting virtually, but there is no replacement for actually physically being on the field with their teammates running the plays.
If you conservatively figure a football game has around 60 plays per game and you divide that by 500 reps, you come up with nearly 8.5, which means essentially the Bucs had to play eight and half games to equal the time they missed out on due to COVID.
The Bucs also had a number of young contributors who should be even better in 2021. I am not sure right tackle Tristan Wirfs can get much better honestly, after allowing just one single sack this year, but a player like Antoine Winfield Jr., should make a big jump in 2021 from an already impressive rookie campaign. Staying in the secondary, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Mike Edwards, Jamel Dean and even Carlton Davis III have room for improvement and another year will make them better players as well. And here is a scary though for opposing offenses in 2021 – linebacker Devin White will be even better.
On the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line that has played so well down the stretch likely returns intact and with a healthy Alex Cappa, but now also a quality backup in Aaron Stinnie, who gained valuable experience subbing for the injured Cappa.
Don’t forget tight end O.J. Howard will be back in a contract year, giving Brady another outstanding weapon. And with Brady and his receivers having a full offseason to get in sync and develop more chemistry, how can we even think the Bucs won’t be the overwhelming favorites in the NFC South and likely the overall favorite in the NFC?
After passing for 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns in the regular season in his first COVID season with the Buccaneers, how much better will Brady be in 2021?
And all of this doesn’t even take into consideration additions that will be made to the Buccaneers. How about throwing a versatile, slashing type of receiving running back to the mix? A veteran like New England’s James White in free agency or a rookie like Alabama’s Najee Harris in the draft?
Maybe another young edge rusher to give a break to Jason Pierre-Paul to help preserve him more next season? Given Jason Licht’s recent draft results, is anyone going to bet on him not adding more talent to an already excellent football team?
Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: Getty Images
Of course realistically you have to consider the alternative as well. If the Bucs do beat the Chiefs on Sunday, will they experience a Super Bowl hangover? The Buccaneers won a Super Bowl in 2002, after a 12-4 season, but followed that up with a 7-9 2003 season.
The 49ers were the NFC representatives in last year’s Super Bowl, but the injury bug hit early and they finished 6-10 this year. The Rams were in the Super Bowl in 2018, then didn’t even make the playoffs in 2019 with a 9-7 record.
Each year brings different adversity and potential pitfalls, but if the Bucs can stay healthy, there is no reason to think they can’t – at the very least – duplicate their 2020 success. But I believe Tampa Bay can improve on all it has accomplished this season. Add in the coaching staff returning intact and the leadership this team has and it’s all in for 2021 again.
Enjoy this Sunday, Bucs fans. Even if Tampa Bay loses you just may see the Bucs back in the big game in 2021. Ian fact, bet on them being back – and even better.
The good news for Payton and the Saints is if they truly want Winston back, they likely won’t have a ton of bidders to go against – if any. Winston played sparingly in 2020 and when Brees missed a number of late season games with broken ribs, it was Taysom Hill who started in Brees’ absence, not Winston. Of course that could have just been Payton playing poker with the rest of the NFL and not wanting to showcase Winston. He did that the previous season with Teddy Bridgewater who turned his 5-0 relief role with the Saints into a big free agent deal with the Panthers.
• Where were you when the Bucs last were in a Super Bowl? I was a 32-year old married, kid-less guy, siting in my living room watching my huge square box of a TV. Remember this was a few years before the flatscreen HDTV revolution started. So it was the 32-inch, 160-pound Curtis Mathis set for me.
My folks came over to watch and it was a low-key get together. I’ve never been one to want to go watch a game at a bar with a bunch of drunks and loud screaming people. I generally don’t even really like non-drunk quiet people either, but definitely wasn’t going to watch the first Bucs Super Bowl with a bunch of people – and for sure not strangers.
This year I will be at Raymond James Stadium to watch the Bucs first hand, but while I would prefer to share the moment with my son and dad sitting at home in my recliner as a family moment, I have a job to do. And a pretty damn good gig if I say so myself. Hopefully the loud screaming drunks won’t be too close to me, or I might leave early and go home a dig out the old analog TV set to watch the second half on for old times sake.
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, the beach and family time.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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