5 Things The Bucs Have To Be Thankful For

It’s Thanksgiving in America, and it’s a day to be grateful and give thanks. Here are five things the 5-5 Bucs have to be thankful for this season as the team comes out of its bye week.

Brady’s Return For One More Year

Bucs Qb Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Bucs saw several key components from their 2020 Super Bowl championship team and last year’s 13-4 squad retire in the offseason. Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet and future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski called it a career, as did Bruce Arians, who has the highest winning percentage of any coach in franchise history. Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, also retired – but unretired after 40 days.

Sure, the Bucs’ 5-5 record through 10 games has been a bit surprising and underwhelming. But it’s hard to imagine Tampa Bay would even be 5-5 if Blaine Gabbert or Kyle Trask was under center. It’s not just Brady’s ability to lead the Bucs from behind, as he did in a 16-13 win over the Rams, or his knack for avoiding turnovers. Brady has thrown 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The fact that Brady rallied the troops by calling out his team’s embarrassing lack of effort helped propel the Bucs to a 21-16 win over the Seahawks in Germany. That game was probably the most complete team win of the season – and over a quality NFC opponent.

Tampa Bay fans have not had the luxury of watching stellar quarterback play very often since the team’s inception in 1976. But having Brady play a third year in red and pewter has proved to be a real treat. Hopefully his greatness carries the team to a third straight playoff berth – and perhaps beyond.

A down year for the NFC South

The fact that the Bucs are only 5-5 yet on top of the NFC South speaks to how weak the division is. The Bucs have to be thankful that there is no other dominant team in the division as their only path to the playoffs this season might be to win the NFC South. Tampa Bay is currently 2-1 in the NFC South and has a half-game lead over Atlanta, which is 5-6. But the Falcons are 1-3 in the division, and that will hurt their chances in a tiebreaker scenario.

The Bucs currently have the tiebreaker advantage over both the Falcons and the Saints. Like Atlanta, New Orleans also won during the bye week and remains just a game and a half behind Tampa Bay at 4-7. The Saints are 1-2 in the division, which is slightly better than the Falcons’ 1-3 mark in the NFC South.

The most interesting team is Carolina, which has the best division record at 3-1, including a win over Tampa Bay. However, all three of those division wins represent all three victories the team has this year. At 3-7, the Panthers might seem out of the NFC playoff picture. They’ll need to win the NFC South to get that automatic berth into the postseason – and they’re just a few games behind the Bucs with seven games left.

Beating The Rams And Saints (Finally)

Bucs Dt Vita Vea And Rams Qb Matthew Stafford

Bucs DT Vita Vea and Rams QB Matthew Stafford – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Another year, another Bucs schedule with the Saints and the Rams on it. For Tampa Bay, facing Los Angeles for a fifth time, including last year’s playoffs, in four years makes this a full-on rivalry. But it has been a one-way rivalry lately. The Rams had won three straight games over the Bucs until this year.

While neither Tampa Bay nor LA has been an NFC powerhouse like both were a year ago, at least the Bucs snapped a three-game losing streak with a 16-13 come-from-behind win in Week 9. That victory was not just payback from last year’s 30-27 win over the Bucs in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, it also snapped the team’s three-game losing skid. The fact that LA is now 3-7 on the year makes that Bucs’ win over the Rams even sweeter.

There’s no escaping New Orleans, as the Saints and Bucs are both in the same division. But the Saints’ seven-game winning streak in the regular season over the Bucs was just ridiculous. While Todd Bowles’ first season in Tampa Bay has gotten off to a bit of a disappointing start, at least he was the head coach to snap both the losing streaks to the Rams and the Saints. His 20-10 victory in New Orleans was long awaited and propelled the Bucs to a 2-0 start in 2022.

Bowles’ Defense Still Stout

While becoming the Bucs’ head coach, Todd Bowles decided to retain his role of defensive play-caller on game days. Larry Foote and Kacy Rodgers are co-defensive coordinators, who help Bowles during the week. But the good news for Bowles and the Bucs is that the play of the defense hasn’t suffered much at all despite Bowles having more on his plate this season.

Tampa Bay’s run defense isn’t as stout as its been in years past and will get a stiff test in Cleveland on Sunday from Nick Chubb and Co. The Bucs have been blitzing less this year and dropping an extra defender in coverage and relying more on just four pass rushers. The results have been impressive, as the team is still getting to the quarterback with regularity, ranking third in the league with 32 sacks. Pro Bowlers Vita Vea and Devin White lead the way with 6.5 and five sacks, respectively.

The Bucs have had some hiccups against the run, especially in the second halves against the Panthers and Ravens, but have done better in recent weeks in shutting down the Rams’ and Seahawks’ rushing attacks. What has been missing is takeaways. The Bucs have recovered just one fumble in the last six games and haven’t picked off a pass since Week 4 against Kansas City. If the Bucs can create more takeaways down the stretch, then Bowles’ defense, which ranks in the top 10 in several categories, will be humming.

The Bucs’ Season Is Still In Front Of Them

Bucs Wr Julio Jones - Photo By: USA Today

Bucs WR Julio Jones – Photo by: USA Today

Despite the fact that the Bucs are 5-5, a recent two-game winning streak gives them some confidence and perhaps some momentum coming out of the bye week. Tampa Bay is still atop the NFC South, and winning the division appears to be the best and easiest path to the playoffs.

As offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich told Brady earlier in the week, it’s down to a seven-game schedule with 21 practices left. The Bucs can go on a run and still finish 12-5. But a record somewhere between 8-9 and 10-7 seems more likely given how the team has played so far.

“I think the hard part about football season is it’s a marathon, and everyone’s got to buckle down and give everything they’ve got,” Brady said. “I think this time of the year, some teams get worse and stop believing and lose hope, and other teams do the opposite. And I think that’s where you really see – whether it’s a championship boxing match, whether it’s football season, whether it’s the middle of the third quarter of a game – that’s when you begin to separate yourself. You can’t really separate yourself four games in, but when you get to 12 games in you can start to do that. We’ve got to play well.”

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