The Buccaneers are preparing for their most important game in a decade – again. Yet, they don’t view the Cowboys as a measuring stick for their success.
This is the sixth time in as many weeks that we’ve labeled the Buccaneers’ upcoming game as their “most important game in a decade”. First, it was to get back on track, then it was taking on tough, division leading opponents, then it was to firmly plant themselves in the playoff hunt.
Now? Well, it’s a prime time game, in front of a national audience, against the team with the best record in football.
We heard it all. “Well, if they go into Kansas City and win, they might be for real.” “They have Seattle coming to town, there’s the true test.” “They have to fly across the country to take on a desperate Chargers team. That’s the big test.”
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Week after week, the Buccaneers have had their success measured against that of their opponents by experts, who still don’t believe this team is legitimate, despite proving them wrong for over a month.
The Bucs, however? The Bucs aren’t measuring themselves against anyone.
Mike Smith was asked about the “litmus test” the Cowboys are viewed as and Smith dismissed the notion that this week is any more important than any other;
"“I think every week is a litmus test. We’re going to be challenged differently this week than we were last week. I think the big challenge for us is this is a big, strong offensive line. They run the ball as well as anybody in the NFL and I think that’s going to be a big challenge for us. They’re playing with a young quarterback that I think is playing as well as any rookie quarterback could play, to lead his team to the victories that he’s lead. So, each week we have different challenges and that’s the fun part of being a coach, trying to figure out what we have to do better than we did the previous week.”"
The Buccaneers are taking a test every week, yes. Yet, these tests haven’t been about the Bucs measuring up against their opponents – they’ve been measuring up against themselves. They’ve identified the challenges they face and have aced every single one.
Since week ten, the Buccaneers’ defense is first in the NFL in points allowed (12.8), first in takeaways (14), first in opponent passer rating (62.5), and third in third down percentage (29.4%). To take the turnover numbers to another level, they’ve taken the ball away 23 times since week five and are tied for first in the NFL with 25 on the season.
People keep counting them out. Experts keep finding ways the Buccaneers have to “prove themselves” each week.
All the Buccaneers keep doing is winning.