NFL NEWS: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To call the 2014 Buccaneers season a long one, would be an understatement, but here are five reasons why the team has to be grateful.
They’re still in the playoff hunt.
While the rest of the NFC South still affords the Bucs opportunities to play catchup, the team still manages to shoot itself in the foot which is the recurring theme of this 2-9 season.
Believe it or not, the Bucs, at 2-9, are still only out of a tie for first place for two games. While it’s possible, yet highly unlikely either the Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints can run the table and finish the season at over .500, the NFL will likely see its second losing team to make the playoffs.
While the Bucs essentially need to win out, they also need the Falcons to at least drop three out of their last five. The Bucs also need the Saints and Carolina Panthers drop at least one more game should they split their second games with the Bucs.
Say what you will about the team, but as unlikely as those playoff scenarios are, they happen to fall on the worst division in football.
As much as Roger Goddell and the NFL has screwed up over the years, there’s something to be said about the chaos it would create if a sub .500 team did go all the way.
They at least have an experienced coach who’s been to the playoffs numerous times
I’ve defended Lovie Smith’s record numerous occasions. While Smith’s probably endured his harshest criticism to date, there’s no doubting his past results.
- Two Super Bowl appearances (Once as coordinator, once as head coach)
- Two NFC Championship appearances
- Three division titles
- Better career winning percentage than his three previous predecessors including the Super Bowl-winning Jon Gruden.
The only head coaches more accomplished than Lovie Smith the Bucs had in franchise history won Super Bowls themselves in Gruden (2002) and Dungy (2006 with the Indianapolis Colts)
Mike Evans is finally showing what he can do.
ESPN projects Evans to break 1,000 receiving yards for the season thanks due to his November stretch of 505 receiving yards, three of the games which he topped 100 yards. His stretch capped off a 209 yard performance for two scores against Washington on November 16. Evans recorded at least one receiving touchdown in six of 10 games this season.
Currently Evans is only 169 yards away from 1,000 with five games to play. While he is likely to replace star Vincent Jackson as the primary receiver, Bucs fans should temper their expectations on him given the sophomoric slumps first round rookies tend to get. Just ask Doug Martin, Cadillac Williams. Josh Freeman and Michael Clayton how hard it was to recreate their rookie success. If Evans can break the jinx, he could very well be the long term solution to solidify the receiver position.
Defense is getting better
Don’t look now, but the defense is actually climbing out of the cellar when it comes to yards given up. They’re now 22nd pass defense and 20th in run defense.
The Bucs in their November 23rd loss against the Bears only surrendered 204 total yards. Despite Bears running back, Matt Forte’s two running scores, he was still held to under 100 yards on the ground. Same can be said about Alfred Morris in their game against Washington. Morris was held to 96 rushing yards with a combined team total of 155 yards.
The defense is currently 22nd overall surrendering an average of 367.9 total yards again, which if you compare to earlier when they ranked near the bottom.
Sacks were a rare commodity, but with recent events, the Bucs are now 18th in the league with 24 for the season.
Time and again, I’ve referenced Tony Dungy’s early struggles with the team. Here are a few other coaches who struggled in their early years with their most successful teams.
Andy Reid – Started his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999 finishing the season 5-11 in his debut. Reid would only dip at .500 or below four other times and made the playoffs nine times during his 13 year old coaching stint with the Eagles.
Bill Parcells – In his 1983 debut with the New York Giants, Parcells finished with a 3-12-1 record. Parcells would win two Super Bowls (1986 and 1990) with the team and made one final appearance in the Super Bowl as New England Patriots coach in 1996. Parcells made the playoffs seven more times in his 19 year career.
Bill Belichick – Belichick started his tenure with the Patriots with a 5-11 record in 2000. He would dominate the league three out of his next four seasons winning Super Bowls. In 14 seasons as coach, Belichick has only missed the playoffs three times. Following Belichick’s debut season, the Patriots have never finished the season under .500 including this year.
Jimmy Johnson – Johnson made his debut in 1989 as coach of the Dallas Cowboys where he finished 1-15 for the season. His second year, he finished 7-9. Johnson’s work would come to fruition in 1992-93 seasons winning Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII.
So Bucs fans, if you think it couldn’t have gotten worse with Lovie Smith, look how it was some of the most successful coaches in NFL history.