The Buccaneers like being the underdog.
Over the years, the Bucs have often been picked as an underdog in “big games”. Rarely, have the media gods seen fit to give the Bucs much chance to win, ever. For three games now, the Bucs had to travel to play other potential Super Bowl suitors, and the first game against the Washington football team, a 31-23 victory for Tampa, is really the only one that the Bucs were expected to win.
And, that result didn’t turn out the way it ought to have. The Bucs made it way too close a game for comfort, but that seems to be what happens when they are the chosen team, according to media pundits, who are often as accurate as the political pollsters, pundits of all sizes and shapes, and yes, even the local mailman. No one seems to get it right.
In the remaining two football games, against the New Orleans Saints, 30-20 Bucs, and the Green Bay Packers, 31-26 Tampa, the Bucs were notable underdogs. Something had changed. These did not appear to be the same Buccaneers that had stumbled through the regular season amassing an 11-5 record, while only beating a handful of teams with more W’s than L’s.
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They weren’t supposed to win in New Orleans. Drew Brees and his Saints had taken it to them twice during the regular season, the last of which on Sunday night football to the tune of 38-3, should have left them scarred for life.
And yet, playing from the bottom of the scorecard seemed to fit them well. The pundits forgot all about the growth the team exhibited over the subsequent end-of-season run. The defense had started to gel, and the offense really seemed to be on the same page. Somehow, beyond all expectations, the Bucs managed to pull off the victory.
Then came the NFC Championship game against the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, the league’s anointed MVP. No one can stop him, they said. He is hard to sack, they said. He has great receivers and a great running game, they said.
And as for the Buccaneers, they didn’t stand a chance. Sure, they got a lucky win in Washington and somehow managed to fend off the Saints, whose quarterback will likely take a permanent end-of-game shower. But no way will they be able to topple the mighty Packers.
The Buccaneers take down Goliath
The game, however, seemed to lurch to the Buccaneers when Bucco Bruce Arians pulled one of his famous “no risk it, no biscuit” decisions out of his pocket and opted to go for it on fourth and four with only seconds left in the first half. Tom Brady’s completion to playoff Lenny Fournette was actually the tougher play, as it turned out. The four yards gained managed to net the first down and set Brady up with one play and 7 seconds.
Everyone on the sidelines (I would have said stadium, but Covid has its ways) thought the Bucs would look for something relatively short to make the anticipated Ryan Succop field goal attempt a bit easier than 56 yards.
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich dialed up a play that managed to leave Scotty Miller one on one deep. Miller took off on a fly pattern and beat the corner before he knew what happened. With Miller two yards past the defender, Brady made a mighty heave and the ball seemed to drop into Miller’s hands. It was reminiscent of several Brady-to-Miller bombs from throughout the season.
No doubt, every cardboard cutout in the stadium was awed. The entire Packers’ bench struggled to pull their jaws off the ground. And at that moment, most Bucs fans seemed to realize that the game was favoring Tampa. There were indeed a few struggles in the latter quarters, but the defense stood up and didn’t really allow Rodgers much. For all intent, the game was over even before Chris Godwin earned a first down on a dagger sweep.
And now, the pundits yet again are calling for the Buccaneers to lose. Albeit, by only 3.5 points. They seem to remember the last time the Bucs lost a game. A game to these same Kansas City Chiefs. A 27-24 loss, in which the Bucs managed to come within three points after falling behind 17-0 in the first half. They think that not only will that Chiefs success prevail, but they are going to add to their total and cover the spread.
It’s what the Saints thought and it’s what the Packers thought. And, in all likelihood, it’s what the Washingtonians thought as well. In only a few hours, the truth will be told. Who will take home the Lombardi? Plenty of the pundits think they know, but as pundits go they have a 50-50 chance to be right. The teams, when you take a look at the stat lines, seem pretty even.
For Bucs fans, it’s probably a good thing to be underdogs.