The ability to close teams out is what typifies a feared team in the NFL. It’s what makes Belichick go for it on fourth-and-two on his own 28. It’s why practice ends each day with the two-minute drill. It’s why Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes caught that touchdown pass against the Cardinals last season after dropping a sure touchdown a play before.
It’s the defining characteristic of a championship team. It’s a tribute to preparation and result of execution. It’s what separates the men from the boys, and it’s how perennial playoff teams roll.
Winning close games.
The Colts do it. Just ask Bill Belichick. The Rams will tell you the Saints can do it. Heck, even the Dolphins, an up-and-coming franchise looking to become a playoff contender, found a way to do it on Sunday.
And the Buccaneers just didn’t have enough to go around. Not enough playmakers. Not enough experience. You can point the finger at the offense, the defense, the coaches or at the officiating, but the fact remains: When the game was on the line, the Bucs simply didn’t get it done.
"We did a lot of good things to get us back into it," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "Our offense and defense made some good plays down the stretch. Defensively, when you get a chance to finish a team off on a two minute drill you have to do that. You have to relish those opportunities. We didn’t get it done."
The Bucs, however, have lost their last five games decided by seven points or less, dating back to last season. At 1-8, it’s a difficult time to be a Bucs fan. But it’s also an exciting time.
Josh Freeman showed against the Packers that he has the capability of being a feared quarterback. Cadillac Williams has proven he can close games and Kellen Winslow seems to be a changed man in Tampa Bay, becoming a go-to option at tight end. The pieces are there, they are simply not ready. Yet. And while Clifton Smith and Sammie Stroughter become two of the most exciting young players in the league, we get a front row seat to watch them all grow alongside their rookie head coach, Raheem Morris.
"We’ve got to finish off games," Morris said, "and it’s my job to get the right people out there on the field and we got to do that. (The Dolphins) went 85 yards in whatever time was left, again put it on myself, my staff, we didn’t make plays to stop. It’s a group effort. We all go out, we all practice, we all play together, and I’m not in the business of pointing fingers. I’m in the business of standing up and taking what I did wrong and then evaluating so I can come back and be a better coach tomorrow.
"These losses right here are the ones that break apart teams that are not together, or don’t have great leadership. I’m a leader right now and I’m going to go lead this team to stay together. That’s my job; we’re going to get them together because we got to get ready to play our division these next couple of weeks."
Encouraging words from a young head coach.
It’s easy to dawn the paper bags and spray the internet with angry blogs in 2009. However, as we watch the Bucs trudge through the rest of an otherwise forgettable season, we don’t have to look too close to find indications that 2010 will be an exciting year for Tampa Bay and for the young Buccaneers. We can find them in the loss to the Dolphins, and we’ll find them in the games to come.
Insert personal bias here: I love where this franchise is going, and I cannot wait to see where the current players take us in the future. Fighting through the hard times today is what’s going to make it that much sweeter when they finally turn this thing around and get back to the playoffs.