The Buccaneers (8-6) had a big opportunity to pick up a statement win over the Cowboys (12-2) in week 15, but they couldn’t capitalize. The loss was a disappointment, but Tampa Bay can’t stay hung up on it. There are two games left, and how those two games pan out will ultimately define the season.
Well, the Buccaneers are in interesting territory. They’re still very much in the playoff hunt with two games to go, but they need to regain their focus very soon. They squandered an opportunity on Sunday night in Dallas, but that six-point loss cannot be what defines this team’s season.
Against the Cowboys, Jameis Winston had one of his worst games of the season. The offensive line looked like a group of turnstiles, the defensive line couldn’t get any push and there was no stopping Ezekiel Elliott. Sure, there were some positives to take away from the loss. But there were a lot of negatives coming out of it as well. That’s why the response that Tampa Bay has over the final two games of the season is so important.
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It could be really easy for the Bucs to fold up. Doesn’t it seem like we’ve seen it before? Last season, they were 6-6 with an outside shot at making the playoffs. They needed a few wins against a couple of beatable opponents. Instead, they dropped four straight to finish the season 6-10. Head coach Lovie Smith was eventually fired, which led to offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s promotion. Koetter really has done a solid job this season, but things will look far better for his first year if he can get his team to bounce back in weeks 16 and 17.
Tampa Bay is set to play two beatable teams in the next two weeks. In fact, the Bucs have already beaten both of them this season. They escaped a week five matchup with the Panthers (5-8) on a last-second field goal by Roberto Aguayo. And, just last week, they shut down Drew Brees on their way to a 16-11 win over the Saints (6-8).
There are multiple ways in which the Buccaneers can force their way into the playoffs. If they get some help in the final two weeks, things could look even better. But, winning out would put them in the best situation possible.
It won’t be easy to win out against division rivals like New Orleans and Carolina, but it’s definitely manageable. If the Bucs are going to do it, they’ll need to put Dallas behind them. Winston needs to come back strong, the run game needs to find some sort of production, the offensive line needs to step up in a big way and the defense needs to return to the way it performed during the five-game winning streak. All of that is possible, but Tampa Bay needs to have the right mindset. By now, the team should have their sights focused on the Saints. The loss to the Cowboys is over and done with, and there’s nothing to do about it now.
If the Bucs play their best ball and win out, will the Dallas game even matter? Maybe in playoff seeding, but after some disasters in recent years, will anyone really be upset over seeding? The fact that Tampa Bay is in this situation is a big deal.
The Bucs will look to bounce back from their week 15 loss this Saturday at 4:25 with a road matchup against the Saints.