There’s a bounce in their step. There’s a swagger that hasn’t been there since Week 13 of last season. There’s an optimism radiating from One Buc Place that can be seen for miles.
These guys might be on to something.
Do they have this game figured out? No. Will this cute little two-game win streak turn into a decade of dominance? Probably not. They are, however on the right track to settling Tampa Bay’s identity crisis that started when Monte Kiffin left for Tennessee. Since he and Derrick Brooks walked out the door, the defense, the franchise and the city haven’t been the same. Now, it looks like we’re getting a glimpse of what the Buccaneers will look like in the coming years.
"I think it’s a different team now," head coach Raheem Morris said. "I think it’s a different bunch of guys. I think it’s guys that have grown up a little bit. This season will mature you pretty fast, both coaches and players."
"I’m liking the way we’re going," Morris said. "I’m liking the direction we’re headed. I am. This is the formula that’s worked since the beginning. Run the football, play action pass, easy completions, play good defense, play solid, keep them out of the end zone. That’s what we’ve done the last two weeks."
That’s not all they’ve done the past two weeks. They went into arguably the most difficult place for an opposing team to play, Qwest Field in Seattle, and owned the Seahawks. They went into New Orleans, where the Saints needed a win to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and came back from the dead, scoring 20 unanswered points. And that’s created a buzz in the locker room.
"It feels great to win two in a row," running back Cadillac Williams said. "I think this organization learned something today: That no matter how far down you are you can still get back up."
And with their two straight wins, the Bucs have turned the topic of conversation from the upcoming draft to the upcoming season, with an optimism that has been scarce most of the year.
"Our season is not over even with our record," quarterback Josh Freeman said after defeating the Saints. "No one is out there hanging their heads. This team never gives up. It’s a great victory and something we can build upon for us next year."
Before they get to next year, they host the Falcons in the season finale on Sunday. The Falcons, who have never had consecutive winning seasons in their 43-year history, still have something to play for despite being out of the playoff hunt. It’s a division game, and another losing season looms if the Falcons leave Tampa without a victory.
But they face the swagger and confidence of a team with nothing to lose, and that’s a dangerous place for a team looking for a big win for their franchise.
"We are playing good football right now" Freeman said. "We are running the ball. The defense is just standing up and shutting people down. I think that this is the type of football that we are capable of playing. Our record is what it is but we have a chance to go out and get another win on Sunday and end the season on a high note. I don’t think anybody is going to take this game for granted."