Two short weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the laughing stock of the National Football League. With the world watching their Thursday night primetime affair back on September 18th, the Bucs were completely decimated by the mediocre Atlanta Falcons by the score of 56-14. Tampa Bay, a team that came in with playoff-aspirations, began their season 0-3.
Second-year QB Mike Glennon stepped in when the Bucs headed into Pittsburgh, and led his team to a stunning comeback victory. To complete a challenging three game road trip, Tampa Bay traveled to the Super Dome in New Orleans to face the Saints. Despite being dominated in most statistical categories, the Bucs held an 11 point third quarter lead. In the end, though, their chaotically sloppy play caught up to them, and the Saints walked away with an overtime win.
Drew Brees did what he does best, shredding a permeable pass defense to the tune of 371 yards through the air. Somehow, the Bucs still had an excellent chance to steal this game. It was a multitude of atrocious mental errors that did them in. Tampa Bay managed to be penalized 15 times for a total of 113 yards, including several at very inopportune times. Whether it was an offensive holding call that stalled a potentially put-away scoring drive, or a defensive pass interference that gave Brees and company a new set of downs, the Bucs could not catch a break.
Even though Sunday's implosion doesn't seem like a positive for Tampa Bay, the team has taken enormous strides in the right direction since Atlanta. The Bucs have played significantly better on both sides of the ball, and finally look like a competitive team. Glennon, the new leader at quarterback, appears to have breathed new life into an abysmal offense. He seems to be finding a comfort zone with his receivers, especially Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy, and that's led to more explosive plays in the passing game.
Glennon has done nothing but assert himself as the indisputable number one quarterback on this roster, but it's still unclear if Lovie Smith feels the same way. Josh McCown will be healthy enough to play again within weeks, and there's a real possibility that Glennon could be headed back the bench. That would be a very costly mistake. Glennon gives this team the best chance to win, now and moving forward.
Although the offense has looked remarkably better, the other side of the ball can't be forgotten about. The Bucs allowed 511 total yards against New Orleans this past Sunday, obviously not an impressive defensive performance. However, Lovie Smith's defenses have been known to be tough, gritty, ball-hawking bunches that do the little things well, and always make life difficult on the opponent. For whatever reason (most likely a lack of depth), this Tampa Bay defense has shown many holes, but the improvement in the front seven is reason for optimism.
When a defense starts players like Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Clinton McDonald, and Michael Johnson, you'd expect a fearsome pass rush, but that was not the case in the first few weeks for the Bucs. They managed little pressure on opposing QB's, and were thoroughly exposed in their secondary. Against Pittsburgh and New Orleans, however, the Bucs have lived in their opponent's backfield. Tampa Bay sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times, and even though they weren't able to sack Brees at all, they still got plenty of pressure, and forced numerous poor throws from the All-Pro, some of which landed in the hands of a Bucs defender.
The advancement of the front seven doesn't entirely compensate for the lackluster play of the secondary, but it's a start. The plan that Lovie Smith is instituting is finally taking shape, and it appears that the players are buying in. They look like an inspired football team, that doesn't mind flying under-the-radar for a while. They'll get where they want to be soon enough.
There is still an abundance of amelioration that needs to take place. The aforementioned secondary needs to play much better, as well as the offensive line. The Bucs have had much trouble to get anything going in the run game, and that is imperative for the team's success. The main concern, especially after Sunday's game, is lack of discipline. There were way to many unacceptable, bone-headed mistakes, and they may have cost the Bucs a win.
This team is still in the process of working through it's flaws and playing up to it's capabilities. It'll take time. The real positive here, though, is the resiliency that they've shown, just since the debacle in Atlanta. Give Lovie some time to get things right, and soon enough, the fan base will be rewarded with what they deserve, a winner.