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.
Four games to go and the Buccaneers sit at 7-5 poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Twelve long years ago.
It is hard to believe in a league that stresses parity and does everything in its power to make the bottom feeders of the league relevant in a short time that the Buccaneers could find a way to avoid the playoffs for 12 straight years.
But here we are.
So what needs to happen to ensure the playoffs? Four wins and it is a done deal. Three wins and they’re almost assured to make the postseason. Two wins and now it is 2010 all over again. The stat nerds in the league office in New York are flipping coins, looking at how many points were scored on an odd-numbered Sunday in October and if Mercury is in retrograde.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today
The bottom line is the Bucs need to take care of their own business and just win three games – or even better win out – and not leave their playoff hopes to tie-breaker scenarios.
It isn’t always the most talented team on paper that takes home the Lombardi Trophy in February. Its the team that gets hot at the right time.
While I would absolutely bet on Tampa Bay making the playoffs, what happens if they don’t?
That is an awful scary proposition, but one we should take a look at.
What if the Bucs flounder down the stretch and drop three of their last four games? Do the Glazers blow it all up and start cleaning house this offseason after two non-winning seasons?
And what about quarterback Tom Brady? What if the Bucs end up 8-8 or heaven forbid, 7-9? Does the greatest quarterback of all-time, who will be 44 next season, decide to hang it up and head off literally into the sunset on the west coast of Florida with his children and supermodel wife after a disappointing first year in Tampa Bay? After all, he didn’t join the Bucs to lose or miss the playoffs.
What about head coach Bruce Arians, who is 68? We all know he isn’t in this for the long haul and two losing seasons in a row could push him to his lake house in Georgia where he could cruise around Lake Oconee in his pontoon boat with his buddy, country music singer Blake Shelton, and a bottle of Crown Royal.
And then there is the front office. Can general manager Jason Licht survive another playoff-less season, which would be his seventh since taking over the team – especially after luring Brady to Tampa Bay and trading for future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski?
What about free agents like Gronk, Lavonte David, Chris Godwin, Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh and others who are core players on this roster? Do they decide to stay, or do they get frustrated and pack up and get out of Tampa Bay as fast as possible? I probably would.
I am not trying to paint a doom-and-gloom prediction picture for what I think will happen over the next four games. I think the Bucs win at least three games, and even went on record and said they would go 4-0 down the stretch.
But Tampa Bay fans have been burned before with their high expectations – too often if you are an original 1976er. I’ve seen my share of failures, shortcomings and just plain bizarre things happen to this football team over the last 43 years, to the point where nothing would surprise me at this point.
And just as quickly as it could all fall apart it, it could all come together as well. If Tampa Bay enters the playoffs on a four-game win streak and still pretty healthy, who will want to see the Brady-led Bucs in the playoffs? Perhaps the Saints, but other than that I don’t think any team in the NFC would want to see Tampa Bay as its playoff opponent.
Even if they don’t reach the Super Bowl this year, just making the postseason would be a heck of an accomplishment for the Bucs.
Now let’s take all of those worse-case scenarios and reverse them.
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Brady and Arians want to come back knowing how close they came this year. The Glazers tell Licht to continue to do what he has to do, as they want another trophy in the lobby. And free agents who could make more money elsewhere, decide to give the Bucs the hometown discount because they see 2021 as they year when it all comes together.
I’m not sure how it all plays out, but the unpredictability is what we love about sports. At least that’s what I love about covering this team.
It all starts Sunday against an up-and-down 6-6 Vikings team that has its deficiencies but also some match-up advantages over the Bucs. I don’t see a blowout either way, but if the Bucs are a legitimate playoff team they they will walk out of Raymond James Stadium with their eighth win of the season.
• Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is a pretty brutally honest guy, and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with his son, Jake Arians, who was a guest on Wednesday’s Pewter Report Podcast. We had a few technical issues early on, but once we got rolling the younger Arians was pretty open about his Dad, what it was like growing up around some of the coaches on the staff and how he yells at his television on Sunday like most fans do from time to time when watching the Buccaneers play. Take a listen if you didn’t see it or hear it live.
• He’s the second-leading rusher in the NFL, and could have been a Buccaneer. Imagine this loaded offense with Dalvin Cook, the best all-around running back in the league. Oh, what might have been.
I was very adamant about the Bucs drafting Cook prior to the 2017 draft. Instead, they watched Alabama tight end O.J. Howard fall to the them at No. 19, and while Cook was a consideration, most of the draft experts all agreed Tampa Bay couldn’t pass up Howard, who many expected to be a Top 10 pick that year.
There were some question marks surrounding some of Cook’s childhood friends, and in hindsight the best thing for Cook was probably to get as far away from Florida as he could. Minnesota is a world away from the Miami area where Cook grew up. Cook himself was not a character concern at all. But since being drafted he has matured a lot in his four years in the NFL and is one of the nicest guys I’ve met. While it has worked out well for Cook, and even for the Bucs, who have found their workhorse back in Ronald Jones II, you still wonder how much better this team could be if Cook were in the backfield.
• Speaking of Howard, we had a chance too speak to tight ends coach Rick Christophel on Wednesday and I asked him how good of a year Howard was poised to have before his Achilles injury against the Chargers cost him the rest of the 2020 season.
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“That’s a good question. I thought that from last year to this year he made an amazing jump and I think the reason was the offense. Just being around the offense and knowing what the offense can give him and utilizing him in the right way. One of the things that people don’t know about O.J., O.J.’s a very physical run blocker on the line of scrimmage, which helps him going downfield and doing some of the things that he did in the pass game. I think he became more creative in doing those things, being in the third and fourth year. Being in the league for those four years but being in the offense for two years and being familiar with what goes on.
“I think Tom [Brady] helped with that a little bit and also the addition of Gronk (Rob Gronkowski), that took some of the pressure of thinking that he’s always got to make the play or Cam [Brate] is going to have to make the play. … But I think that with O.J. it was more the familiarity with the offense in the second year.”
Hey, at least they care about diversity in the work place.
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