By Lucas McMillan
For a brief stretch in the middle of the season, it looked like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had it all figured out. They won four straight, rolling over Minnesota, Oakland and San Diego.
Doug Martin established himself as one of the premiere running backs in the NFL, and Josh Freeman rediscovered some of that magic from his sophomore season. However, two close losses in a row to the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos have left the Bucs mired at 6-6 with seriously damaged playoff hopes. However, even if they don’t make it this season, they certainly have a solid foundation to build on next year.
The Bucs’ season began with the hiring of former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. He has tried to instill a new, ferocious attitude in the Buccaneers, and that’s either a good or a bad thing, depending on whom you ask. Tom Coughlin, for instance, is on the record as not being a big fan.
Schiano has his team blitz the opposing quarterback when they line up in the victory formation, a move that is severely frowned upon in NFL circles. However, one thing is certain: the Bucs have responded to his hard-nosed approach and are playing infinitely better than they did a year ago when they were 4-12 under former coach Raheem Morris. However, after two tough losses to the Falcons and the Broncos, the Bucs’ playoff hopes are significantly slimmer than they were just a few short weeks ago when the Bucs were the toast of the league.
“We need to go back home and forget all this other nonsense and just get better and focus on how we get better this week,’’ Schiano said after the Broncos loss on Sunday. “That’s what we have to lock in on as a football team, and we have a 3 1/2-hour plane ride to think about how to do it. But we can’t just talk about how we’re going to do that, we actually have to go out and do it.’’
The Bucs still have a chance at the playoffs, but they will mostly likely have to win out on their remaining schedule. They have two tough road trips to New Orleans and Atlanta remaining on their schedule, but they sit only a game back from the 7-5 Seahawks in the wild card standings.
It’s been a tough year for the Bucs, and one in which they must look back at their schedule, shake their heads and wonder what might have been. They have not lost a game by more than a touchdown, and with their defensive backs seemingly getting suspended left and right for Adderall use, they rank dead last in the NFL in pass defense. If they were even slightly above that, how many more games could they have won?
Still, the Bucs have showed vast signs of improvement from last year, and the addition of Vincent Jackson in the offseason has given Freeman the reliable downfield target that the cannon-armed quarterback always needed. They may fall short of the playoffs this year, but the future is bright in Tampa Bay.
Lucas McMillan is a writer for FootballSchedule.me. To checkout the week-by-week Buccaneers Schedule as well as the latest NFL and college football news, visit Football Schedule. Follow Football Schedule on Facebook and Twitter @FBSchedule.