I’ve been a Bucs fan for as long as I can remember. One thing that I’ve learned in all my years of watching this team is that you never know what you’re gonna get from them. Call me skeptical, cynical, pessimistic, or even call me a Negative Nellie, but it’s a part of being a Bucs fan. We can’t help it sometimes; it’s in our blood.
Take this season for instance.
As usual, we all came into 2019 with new hope and excitement for the new coaching staff and new players. They started the year off with what seemed like a “gimme” win against the Niners at home, and they lost. Then came the improbable win on the road in Carolina. Everyone got hyped again, thinking things had changed, because they wouldn’t have won that game last year. Week 3 brought the 0-2 Giants into town, and we all expected a rout in front of a loud home crowd, but what we got was our guts ripped out in the last minute of the game in front of a stadium half full of blue jerseys. Last week, the Buccaneers team that we all expected this season showed up in L.A. to drop a double-nickel on the 3-0 Rams. Was I excited? Absolutely! Was I surprised? A bit. Do I expect it again this week in New Orleans? Not really.
You see, that’s where my skepticism comes in.
Don’t get it twisted. I’d love for THAT Bucs team to be the team that shows up every week for the rest of the season, but do any of us really believe that’s going to happen? I doubt it. I’m sure that we’re all hoping for the best and expecting the worst. That’s the philosophy here in Tampa Bay. It’s just how it is.
But what if? WHAT IF this team does go into New Orleans, and wins? WHAT IF this team beats the Saints easily? Does THAT start to change the philosophy of Bucs fans? I wonder what it will take.
After that rough first game against San Francisco, Jameis Winston has put together one of the best three-game stretches of his young career, completing 65% of his passes for 974 yards with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Do I believe that the “QB Whisperer” Bruce Arians has cured Jameis of his bad habits already? I’m not so sure yet. But WHAT IF he has another solid game against a pretty decent Saints defense? Will it help change my mind? Maybe.
Running back Ronald Jones was considered a bust after a very unproductive rookie season. Totaling just 44 yards rushing last year, he has now rushed for at least 70 yards in three of the Bucs’ first four games. Do I believe that he should be the starting running back for this team? I’m not totally sold just yet. But WHAT IF he has another solid game this Sunday, will it change my mind? Against this Saints front maybe.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have been one of the most productive wide receiver duos in the first quarter of the season, totaling 754 yards and 8 touchdowns in 4 games. Do I believe that they can keep this pace up all season? I doubt it. Doing so would put both of them around 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns each, which would be impressive. I don’t know. But WHAT IF they do?
Shaq Barrett just won Defensive Player of the Month, after finishing his first 4 games with 20 tackles, 9 sacks, 10 QB hits, 7 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 interception. He’s on pace for 80 tackles and 36 sacks, which would destroy the NFL record for sacks in a single season. Do I believe he can keep up this pace? No, I don’t. Do I think the Bucs have finally found the edge rusher that they’ve been missing since Simeon Rice left? It appears that way. But WHAT IF he gets another sack or two against the Saints? Does that make me start to believe that he’s more than just a flash in the pan? I think it would.
The Bucs defense has been strong against the run so far this season.
Despite facing some of the top running backs in the NFL in their first 4 games, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Todd Gurley, they are ranked 1st in rushing defense, allowing just 59 yards per game. They’ve made teams, one dimensional, which explains why they’re also 31st in passing defense. But WHAT IF they shut down Alvin Kamara like they have everyone else so far? Will that convince us that this new defense is for real? I think it should.
This young, talented Buccaneers secondary has a tough job this year.
In Bowles’ system, the corners are typically asked to play man coverage outside so that the safeties and linebackers are free to blitz. Have you stopped for a second to think about how much talent is really back there? Vernon Hargreaves a first-round pick, Carlton Davis a second-round pick, Jamel Dean a third-round pick, MJ Stewart a second-round pick, Sean Murphy-Bunting, a second-round pick, Ryan Smith a fourth-round pick, Jordan Whitehead a fourth-round pick, Mike Edwards a third-round pick, and Justin Evans a second-round pick. The back end of this Bucs defense is full of early-round talent. We’re just waiting on them to play to their full potential. Yes, they’re giving up 318 yards per game, but they’ve only given up 5 passing touchdowns in 4 games. In fact, they have almost as many interceptions (4) as they do touchdowns against. They do get Ryan Smith back from his 4-game suspension and could get Justin Evans back in a few weeks if he can get healthy. There are also rumors flying around that the Bucs could possibly make a trade with the Cardinals for Patrick Peterson before the trade deadline on October 29th, so this group will get better as the season continues. So WHAT IF they do get Peterson? Does that put this defense over the top? Are they a shutdown corner away from being an elite defense? If the front seven keeps playing like this, then I think they are.
Rookie kicker Matt Gay had to be escorted to his car following the Giants game in Week 3 after he missed a 34-yard chip shot to win the game. This season, he’s 9 for 11 on field goals and 12 for 14 on extra points with one of those being blocked. He’s having a pretty decent year so far. Had it not been for that BIG miss against the Giants, the Bucs would be 3-1, and he would be hailed as the “Matt Bryant curse breaker”. Instead, Bucs fans still close their eyes and cross their fingers every time he comes out to kick. So WHAT IF he keeps making his kicks? Will that be enough for us cynical fans to finally admit that Jason Licht got this kicker pick right and allow us to be more relaxed during his kicks? I would like to think so.
My point is this: What will it take to restore our faith in this team and its players? How many wins in a row? How many points does this offense have to score? How many running backs does this defense have to shutdown? How many field goals have to be made? What will be enough? Bucs fans are so scarred by the disappointment of past teams that I’m not even sure if anything would help anymore. We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Always waiting for the shit to hit the fan. When will Jameis throw his next pick? When will the defense give up the lead? When will Gay miss his next kick? Those things are always in the back of Bucs fan’s minds no matter what is happening in the game. I’m guilty of it. Hell, even when they had a 28-10 halftime lead against New York I had a feeling in my gut that they were going to somehow lose that game and sure enough, they did. It’s been instilled in us over the years. It’s ingrained in our DNA. So what’s the cure for this? It’s simple really; CONSISTENCY.
“Stacking wins” as Bruce Arians likes to say. Consistently winning games and NOT consistently finding ways to lose them. Another road win in New Orleans would go a long way towards earning that trust back from Bucs fans. The Rams win was nice, but it wasn’t enough to convince us. A win against the Saints might not even be enough, but it would give us a lot more confidence going into London. Another division win overseas against the Panthers could really give us a boost. IF they could string those three wins together and go into their Week 7 bye at 4-2, then this team might be on to something. We fans might start believing.
This first half of the schedule was the tough part.
After their bye, they play at Tennessee and Seattle before coming home to play a bad Cardinals team. They still have home games against the Saints, Colts, Texans, and Falcons with road games in Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Detroit. All very winnable games, in my opinion, at this point. If they hit the bye at 4-2 and can at least split the two games against the Titans and Seahawks, they’ll be 5-3 with four of their final seven games at home (if that’s even a good thing for this team). In his first season with the Cardinals (2013), Bruce Arians started 2-2 then 3-5 before the team reeled off 7 wins in their last 9 games to finish 10-6. Can this Buccaneers team do the same?
WHAT IF they do?
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!