The next part of our Breaking Down the Breakdown series deals with expectations and the effect they had on the Buccaneers’ season.
The adage is that players don’t read their press clippings. I can tell you from a place of experience that this couldn’t be less true. Players are human. Some genuinely don’t care what people say, but even more really do and just say they don’t. Just like with everyone. Especially after wins.
If you did something noteworthy and got home and couldn’t sleep you’re telling me you might not want to read what other people were saying about you?
The Buccaneers are the youngest team in the NFL, comprised mostly of men about 23-24 years old. You don’t think they didn’t read some of the hype coming into this season?
I’m not saying this is all because Tampa bought into its own hype, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. But I do think expectations have played a role in this team’s problems at times this year.
Face it, last year the Buccaneers were playing with house money. When you finish a season 3-13 and enter the next year with an unproven 22 year-old quarterback it’s not like most people are going to start screaming about your playoff chances.
That can have a calming effect. When there’s no expectation there is no pressure. Most people thought the Bucs would win between two and six games. Every win seemed like a bonus. Every play seemed like a revelation. When you enter a season sans expectations, it’s amazing how enjoyable football can be.
I’ve said all season I will be interested in what Cam Newton does next year because he’s in that position right now. Him and Ron Rivera are in their grace period, the team picked first overall in last year’s draft and was considered dead in the water before the season even started this year. Every great play Newton makes right now is just icing on the cake for a team that expected to be bad this year.
But next year, when people start to expect excellence, that’s when I’ll be interested in seeing how Newton fares.
That’s the situation Tampa found itself in this season.
Expectations carry with them pressure, and while I don’t accuse the Bucs of the hubris of buying into their own good press, I do think they quietly felt the pressure this year.
And while if the team had started 2-4 people may have dialed it back a bit and the pressure could have eased up, starting 4-2 with wins over Atlanta and New Orleans only raised the expectations. Suddenly playoffs went from nice scenario to distinct possibility. And unlike last year, this was a team that was expected to be there in January, not just hoping.
You don’t think those expectations, and that pressure, haven’t been in the back of the Buccaneers’ minds all season?
This team is still young and a lot of the players are still learning how to be professionals.
I think it had more impact than we realized.