Be honest with yourself right now. Did YOU expect the Bucs to win ten games this season? Honestly? Nobody did. I’d be willing to wager that aside from a few Buccaneer diehards pushing the brinks of sanity, there was only one guy who believed the Bucs could actually manage to win ten games this year when Raheem Morris made that bold prediction before the season started. And that guy was Raheem Morris.
The Race to ten is a concept that apparently started when Raheem Morris and Mike Tomlin were both assistants for the Buccananeers dreaming of becoming NFL coaches.
"“All we ever talked about was getting to the playoffs,” Morris said. “Just that race to 10. Who cares where you end up, where you’re seeded, what they’re saying about you, who you have to play, where you’ve got to go. None of that matters. If you get in, you’ve got a chance. And that’s how it happened for us in ’02.“Ever since then it’s been, ‘Hey, man, let’s get to 10, and we’ll figure the rest of this (stuff) out later.’ “"
This year in Tampa, with a year under his belt, Morris imparted that mantra on a very young Buccaneers squad and made no secret of it to the media. It was a race to win ten and while everyone in the building was buying into it, everyone outside of the building had other ideas…
Peter King is a bit a of blow-hard at times, I think it’s pretty clear he’s a Patriots fan by virtue of his story selection alone, but he’s a very good prognosticator. Case in point, you can look far and wide at preseason predictions but only one guy actually predicted a Pittsburgh-Green Bay Superbowl, Peter King.
Still, King in all his wisdom pegged the Bucs to win 2 games. Nobody had the Bucs winning many more than five or six and that was probably being generous. Raheem Morris was aware of this too.
"“It’s not easy when you’re coming off a season where you won three games. Nobody believes in you. God forbid if we lost that (season-opening) Cleveland game. It’d be: Here we go again,” Morris said. “Every media person, not just locally, had us pegged for two wins. Zero wins. One win. You go look at any of those pro football magazines, my guys all read those things, they knew what people were saying.“Warren Sapp is on the NFL Network — he loves me more than anybody — and he says it’s going to take us three seasons to get to 10 wins. But he was saying that because of what he saw last year. He didn’t know Arrelious Benn. He didn’t know Mike Williams. He didn’t know Gerald McCoy. He didn’t know how Josh Freeman looked in training camp.“He didn’t know all of these young guys that have helped us develop this concept and really believe in it.”"
And that was the point that Morris exploited to sell the Buccaneers on the idea that they could win ten games. Nobody really knew much about this Buccaneer team. In fact, even after a 10-6 season most people still don’t know much. Nothing else mattered, expectations, opinions, respect or credit for anything were all irrelevant. Just win, forget the rest of it, just win.
And you could watch this Buccaneer team slowly start to buy into the concept, game by game, throughout the season. The team was dealt blows by Pittsburgh and New Orleans after beginning to gather a little bit of confidence and momentum earlier on in the season. The Bucs were feeling good about 2-0 when the Steelers stomped on them in week three. In week six after winning a big game in Cincinnati the Bucs were again stomped, this time by New Orleans. Both times at home. Both crushing losses.
But each time the Bucs reset, it was a race to ten. Forget about the last loss and move on to the next chance to win. The Bucs followed up a bad loss to the Saints by winning a tight game with the Rams, another up-and-coming young team, finding a real threat on the ground in LeGarrette Blount during the victory. The next week they continued to gain confidence hanging 38 in a win in Arizona. The resilience on this team was largely attributed to the fact that this team truly did believe they had a chance to win every week.
And in a larger way, more than the number of wins the race to ten represented the Bucs ability to block out all the peripheral distractions and the non-believers and have an intrinsic confidence that they carried on to the field every week. Even if no one else believed it, the Bucs knew they belonged on the field every weekend.
That’s big for a young team. The Bucs won every game they were expected to win this season with one exception, they let one slip to the Detroit Lions in week 15, one that cost them the playoffs and will ultimately serve as a motivator for most of the off-season.
But even after that loss, indicative of the spirit that Morris had instilled in the Bucs, the team continued to persist and still made it to ten. They still saw they had the opportunity to hit ten and accomplished the goal. Not only did they get there, the Bucs played their best two games of the season to round things out. That’s no small feat either, the youngest team in the league typically hits a hard rookie wall. The Bucs didn’t. When you factor in the 14 players (13 on IR, one suspended) that didn’t finish the season and two wins over playoff teams to get to ten on the season becomes all the more impressive.
In the end Raheem Morris may have to ammend his race to ten because despite getting to the finish line, things didn’t fall into place for the Bucs. It’s rare, but the Bucs missed the playoffs with ten wins this season.
But to let that undermine any part of this season would be absolutely absurd. As we mentioned at the outset of this article, this was a team that was supposed to win two games this year. Even if that seems crazy, all of those opinions were from “experts” who do at least lend a significant level of knowledge to their predictions. Basically, there was some merit to those predictions.
Which makes it all the more impressive that Raheem Morris could inspire an entire team to believe in itself, to block out all the background noise, and just focus on a single mantra or concept on the way to achieving their goals. Morris set the goal of ten wins for his team this year and he got his team there. His methods sometimes come off as unorthodox, perhaps even cheesy. It’s easy to get distracted with the bravado that comes with saying he has ‘the best team in the NFC‘ or the absurdity of predicting ten wins for a team that won just three a year before. It’s easy not to look past the candid, at times off-the-wall pressers or the youthful energy that shows through in his sideline chest bumps and celebration. But at the heart of all of it is a very passionate, insanely gifted young coach who is an exceptional motivator.
I’m sure over the course of his career Morris will find countless ways to reach individuals and his team, we’ll probably never hear about most of them. It may be as small as the way he approaches a certain guy with a criticism or as large as making an absurd prediction to put his team’s back up against the proverbial wall. But Raheem Morris seems to understand the mindset and motivations of his players and knows how to get them to play for him, for each other.
The Race to Ten is less about the Bucs actual success reaching ten wins in the 2010 season and more about the way a group of young men can come together and buy into a concept and accomplish something everyone else in the country thought was impossible. And it’s the excitement that comes from realizing that this team is still in its early stages.