Winning cures all.
A few weeks ago, things couldn’t have been worse for Greg Schiano and the Buccaneers. The second-year head coach was firmly on the hot seat, quarterback Josh Freeman was causing angst both on and off the field and Tampa was still winless on the season. Now, after a couple wins, suddenly all is apparently forgiven.
The Buccaneers have now beaten the Dolphins and Falcons in back-to-back weeks, improving to 2-8 on the season and instilling some confidence in Schiano’s system and his future with the franchise. Four weeks ago, Schiano’s future seemed clear: finish out the season in Tampa, get fired and, in all likelihood, return to the college ranks. Now, that schedule isn’t so certain.
On a two-game winning streak, which is hard to believe considering where they were, the Buccaneers seem like an entirely different football team than the one that was embroiled in controversy just six weeks ago. And it all comes back to the players finally buying into Schiano’s methods.
“There was a time there a few weeks ago when it could not have gotten any worse at One Buc [Place],” guard Davin Joseph said on Sunday, per The Tampa Tribune. “I mean, it was the worst it’s ever been, and I’ve been here for eight seasons.
“It was coming down hard on [Schiano],” Joseph added. “But he stuck with it. He stuck with what he believes and now it’s starting to pan out.”
The Bucs aren’t a bad team. They have a lot of good, young talent on their roster but have fallen victim to some crushing injuries throughout the season. Starting wide receiver Mike Williams, star running back Doug Martin and four other expected starters are on injured reserve. Starting left guard Carl Nicks, who contracted MRSA at the Bucs facility before the season, has played in just two games. And Tampa is already on their third kicker this season, as Lawrence Tynes (MRSA) and Connor Barth (Achilles) have both been sidelined. The injuries played a big part in the 0-8 start, but the Bucs are actually much better than their record would indicate.
Seven of the Bucs’ eight losses this season have come against teams with a record of .500 or better. They’ve also lost five games by a one-score margin, four of them by three points or less — to the Jets, Saints, Cardinals and Seahawks, no less. Starting a rookie in Mike Glennon at quarterback doesn’t help in those tight-game situations either. So, while it hasn’t exactly been easy sailing in Tampa, some hope is brewing.
The Buccaneers scored a season-high 41 points in a win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday — an encouraging sign for an offense averaging just 16 points per game (31st in the NFL) entering Week 11. They also finally seemed to figure out how to use Darrelle Revis most effectively on defense, playing him almost exclusively in man coverage, where he excels, in recent weeks.
This season is lost already. Even if they won out, which they won’t given a rough schedule the rest of the way, the Bucs would only finish at 8-8 in an uber competitive NFC playoff race. So, there’s no hope for a miraculous postseason run, nor should there be, but the traction they’re building could be just the momentum they need for a postseason push in 2014.
Between Revis, Lavonte David, Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy, Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, the Bucs already have the core of a top-notch defense in place. Bring back a healthy Martin and Williams to pair with Vincent Jackson, a more experienced Glennon and a solid offensive line, and this team could be a playoff contender as early as next season.
There’s no telling if Schiano survives to see it through. The on-field results have been shaky going back as far as 2012, and his tenure hasn’t exactly been the cleanest off the field either. After some tough times and murky waters in Tampa, though, it seems that the players are finally responding to Schiano, and the results have been promising in the short term.
Whether they can continue that success against the likes of the Lions, Panthers, 49ers and Saints — four of their six opponents over the final six weeks — is very much uncertain. But momentum is building in Tampa, and, even amid all the controversy and speculation, Schiano might be just the man to lead them after all.