Alive and Kicking

November 28 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did the unthinkable by beating the St. Louis Rams on Monday night, but Penner wonders what will happen from here. Will this be the spark the Bucs were looking for or will they continue to be inconsistent in their last six games of the season?

It was straight out of the movie Remember the Titans. The coach played by Denzel Washington tells his team in a mighty speech that they can either come together as a team and win or be apart and lose. I don't consider for a moment that Tony Dungy whipped his guys into a lather that way, but the Bucs perhaps saved their season Monday night in St Louis with an effort that reeked of cinema.

Not to be too dramatic here, but I pegged this one as a loss. I thought it was the only unwinnable game on the second half schedule. I figured the Bucs would show up, but eventually would be done in by a cavalcade of Rams air strikes. Not only did the Bucs show up, but they were the better squad and did wonders for their self confidence. To me, there were three main reasons Tampa won this game. 1) Tony Dungy, for the second straight year, outcoached Mike Martz. 2) Brad Johnson out quarterbacked Kurt Warner and 3) Warren Sapp was by far the best player on the field.

Dungy and Johnson have taken a beating from Bucs fans who wonder why, well why they're not Martz and Warner. Truth is, the Bucs have the Rams number. They, along with the Saints, match up very favorably with St Louis and could be problems for the greatest show on turf in the playoffs. Teams that can get pressure on Warner and cave in his comfort zone in the pocket usually hang with the Rams. In addition, jamming the receivers and gambling defensively are mandatory for success. Dungy's gameplan was exactly that. He knew that the high risk high reward St Louis offense would put the ball on the ground and that trying to outscore them like he did last season was probably not a good idea.

Fast forwarding, one has to wonder what happens from here. Nobody, not even the Rams, has distinguished themselves from the rest of the pack in the NFC. In this crazy season, where last week road teams won 12 of the 15 games played, having homefield in the playoffs is no distinct advantage. Certainly, the Bucs need to play at a much more consistent level to be comfortable with their position. The game Sunday in Cincy is dangerous. Not so much because the Bengals are a good team, but because Dungys crew has not yet proven that they have the mental stability to know when they should pummel an outmanned squad.

It's been a season of ups and downs in the NFL. Crappy teams last year are now division leaders this season. The Skins once 0-5 are now 5-5. The Giants look dead, the Eagles look drunk, the Bears look lucky and the Bucs are the mystery team. I'm sure around the league the sentiment is that residing in Tampa you have a scary group. Full of talent, full of themselves, they're the guy in the 'R' rated movie you're just not sure about. Are they ready to explode or implode, or both? Is Dungy on thin ice or are his players circling the wagons? Will Keyshawn ever catch a TD? Will Todd Yoder ever catch a TD? Will Kenyatta Walker ever shut up? All very solid questions to be solved in this six week push.

Maybe Bucs fans have become jaded. I can safely say that no team puts their fans through more of a high wire act than right here in Tampa. Isn't that all part of being a fan? The weekly trials and tribulations, the buildup to next weeks game. If it were predictable, it'd be boring. What we do know is this. The Bucs are about as safe a bet as a summer timeshare in Afghanistan. But, would you bet against them?


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