Monday, Sept. 24
How did this happen?
Tampa Bay is 2-1 after three games. Is there an explanation for this?
Sure. These Buccaneers have played better than anyone expected this early in the season. I picked them at 6-10, and my rationale was this — There were so many new parts on this team, especially on defense — that I thought it would take half the season for any real chemistry to develop. By then, I figured, the season would be lost.
Well, I was right about the chemistry. It's not there yet. There's plenty more improvement this offense and defense can make. What I didn't expect was that the team would find a way to win anyway.
The Bucs have won the last two games with a below-average pass rush from its front four. But their back seven — the linebackers and secondary — are propping them up with exceptional play. It's usually the other way around in this defense. If the back line can continue to hold until the defensive line starts producing better numbers (five sacks in three games), this defense could be really salty.
The Bucs have proven on offense that they can win games with explosive and with grind-it-out attacks. The latter is real important because as the season gets older, the Bucs will be asked to win more games in the fashion they did on Sunday if they expect to make the playoffs.
Yes, I used the "P" word. Even the most cautious fan must admit that the elements are there. This team hasn't come close to hitting its ceiling yet on either side of the ball. Plus, the NFC South will feature another tight race, but it's apparent that there isn't a single, dominant team this year.
That makes Sunday's road trip to Carolina — or North Carolina, as Jon Gruden likes to call it — all the more important.
The best in Bucs news
Have you checked out our game coverage yet? You should. It's as comprehensive as you're likely to find on the Web. There's our game story, which features Earnest Graham's exceptional fourth-quarter. There's our notebook, which leads with the five big defensive plays that kept the Rams from making Sunday a much closer game. If you missed our in-game blog — I was at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday to cover the game — catch up with the blow-by-blow by clicking on this link. And, you can click here to see the game summary and my gradebook on the Bucs. And don't forget — if you're a premium subscriber, there's much more, including complete post-game transcripts of head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Jeff Garcia. No newspaper gives you complete post-game transcripts, so you can only get Gruden's unfiltered view of the game here.
Over at the Tampa Tribune, columnist Joe Henderson writes about Graham, who may have had his coming-out party on Sunday. And the Tribune also writes that statistics can't tell the whole story of Tampa Bay's defensive performance on Sunday.
Over at the St. Petersburg Times, columnist Gary Shelton writes about the one critical drive in which Garcia's veteran poise and ability helped put the Buccaneers in control. And, with his interception, cornerback Phillip Buchanon is beginning to flash some of his old sizzle.
Later today you can find the Bucsblitz.com Chat Wrap, the Observation Deck game review and more coverage from the game. Also, keep an eye out for "First Look" and "Film Session" on Tuesday. And, Gruden will speak later today from One Buc Place, and we expect an update on safety Sabby Piscitelli's foot. MP