NEW ORLEANS — In the spirit of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and Andy Kauffman) my little bit of performance art this week is channeling the Buccaneers and showing up late to the game; hence this week’s extra special edition of the Friday Football Feast showing up as the Saturday Football Spectacular.
The one week joke also serves an actual purpose. Funny or not, it reflects the Buccaneers we’ve seen up until now, and that includes the funny or not part. This team has showed up late to games, and it’s not funny. No one is laughing especially when some sports writers are seeing through the Buccaneers facade and calling them one of the worst teams in football.
The Bucs aren’t anywhere near the worst team in football even if they have an extremely weak 4-3 record. But in games that really matter (as in divisional games) Tampa is 3-0. They have a chance to go 4-0 and do something they haven’t done in the Freeman-Morris era: sweep the New Orleans Saints.
This would be more than just an emotional and mental victory, it would put the Bucs in first place (again) and give the Bucs what should prove to be an extremely valuable tie-breaker over the Saints meaning if they tie like they had a chance to last season, the Saints get bounced from the playoff picture not the other way around.
But this is all very familiar in that I am getting WAY too ahead of myself. I had this same confidence prior to the Lions, 49ers and the Bears game; all games Tampa got trounced in. Tampa can show all the haters who are piling up quickly, that this yungry team isn’t just a transparent 4-3 squad, they’re instead capable of winning one of football’s toughest divisions.
The Buccaneers are lacking identity all over the place. They don’t have the offense they think they have and Josh Freeman is not the quaterback he thinks he is.
Not yet at least.
But they can prove to not only the NFL but to themselves that they are the real deal by showing up Sunday the way they did when the Bucs met the Saints earlier this year. It wasn’t an offense explosion but it was what was needed. Josh Freeman didn’t make too many mistakes and didn’t force too many throws and look what happened: the Bucs won. The Saints defense is just as terrible as it was the first time around and although yeah they beat a horrid Colts team in a way that made the Bucs 45 point loss look light, the Saints pulled a Buccaneer move and turned around and lost to a win-less Rams team the next week.
And if the Rams can beat you, how are you going to believe you can’t.
That Rams win did more than even the stakes of this game for Tampa, it gave them a confidence. I bet Raheem Morris would have traded his kidney to get the game tape so all the cracks the Rams exploited can be exploded open Sunday. The way this can be done is the same way Tampa beat the Saints the first time; establish the run.
Earnest Graham won’t be there for a repeat attempt but LeGarrette Blount will be even if he is limited. Mossis Madu will be seeing a lit of carries and if you harbor doubts about Madu take yourself back to the Saints game earlier this year. Earnest Graham was making his first start of the year and he torched the Saints. Madu is a speed guy, that’s what he does. If he hits the holes and the lanes that he gets, expect a huge day.
This will open up Freeman and the passing game and will either be a blessing or a curse. If the passing game is opened up too much, Freeman may return to his over confident ways and force passes thus creating turnovers via the always hated interception. But he could channel the Josh Freeman that shows up in big spots and light it up. For the first time all year, I have my doubts about Freeman and his ability to win this game.
That being said, he’s won in the Superdome 2 times in two years and he’d love to keep his record in New Orleans clean. It’s not going to be easy, but when is a game against the Saints ever easy?
If the Bucs have had at least one thing be constant this year, it’s their defense. With few exceptions, this young defense is growing together and doing it fast. Guys like Mason Foster and Adrian Clayborn are becoming anchors and they haven’t even played a full season yet.
If they can drown the Saints again this year, imagine what that will do to this defense’s confidence.
It was written in Grantland today the the Bucs needed four turnovers to beat the Saints. This was said in a negative way, as if whenever your defense forces 4 turnovers it’s not a good thing. That’s the reason Tampa won against the Saints earlier this year and if that’s a bad thing then I’m not sure I know what a good defense is anymore. Last time I checked, having a defense that forces turnovers on an offense that largely doesn’t commit them is a good thing.
The Bucs will need to play this exact same way this coming Sunday in order to win. The Saints are not an easy opponent and always seems to play their best against the Bucs no matter how poor their defense is normally. In addition to that they’re playing at home and they’re coming off a week where they were the laughing stock of the NFL.
That doesn’t happen to the Saints and they’d like no one else other than a divisional opponent to take out their wrath on.
The defense needs to show up for all 60 minutes of the game to win and that’s the real question: can they do it? If it takes four turnovers so be it, but four turnovers alone will not be enough to stop the Saints and claim first place. It needs to be a game-long effort and the defense is the unit on the team that can control the game the most.
This is the second time the Bucs and Saints are meeting this year and although the stakes seems the same, they’re amplified greatly. Not only is first place on the line, but so is a tie-breaker and pride. Both teams lost last week in embarrassing ways and the test will be which team can recover the best and rebound. The Saints arguably have the most pride on the line as not only did they almost cancel out scoring 62 points on national television by losing to a win-less team, but they are 0-1 against the Bucs which is something they’re not used to at all. The stakes are higher for Tampa as they’re young which has opened them up to harsh criticism, some of it deserving. But if Tampa can be the more mature team on Sunday, a lot will be proved and many will be shut up.
It won’t be easy at all and it may not happen, but Tampa’s in another good spot to take over first place and that’s almost a win in itself. But the victory isn’t complete yet, and even a win on Sunday won’t complete that win. A Super Bowl trophy is the only thing that completes that victory and a huge win in New Orleans Sunday is a giant leap towards accomplishing that goal and completing the ultimate win.
Prediction: Bucs 27, Saints 24