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One reason the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will struggle to improve: close games

In 2010, Josh Freeman became a hero to Buccaneers fans early in the season. As the sophomore quarterback led late-game after late-game drive, the Bucs kept winning games. It seemed like as long as the game was close at the end, the Buccaneers would win. But then the Bucs lost a close game to the Atlanta Falcons when Legarrette Blount failed to convert a fourth down. Later in the season, Freeman threw an interception against those same Falcons at the end of the game, losing them that game. Finally, the Bucs failed to put away the Lions late in the game, and lost in overtime. 

Those losses taught the Bucs one thing: they can't rely on their quarterback to win them close games in the fourth quarter all the time. This is one reason the Buccaneers could struggle to improve in 2011. In 2010, the Bucs were 5-1 in games decided by three points or less, the NFL's best mark. This sounds great, but it's actually bad news. While it's often said that bad teams don't know how to win close games, the ability to win close games is not consistent from one season to the next.

This makes intuitive sense: in a close game, one lucky bounce can turn the tide. One ball caught instead of dropped can win a game, while one blown block can turn a win into a loss. One referee's call can swing a close game around. 

The fact that the Bucs won a lot of their close games last season shows that the Bucs weren't just good at the end of games, they were also lucky. If the Bucs play the same way next season, they're going to have a few more balls roll the wrong way, and before you know it they're 0-4 in close games, and end the season 6-10 instead of 10-6. 

To prevent that from happening the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to learn not to play to their opponent's level, as they so often did last season. They need to drop the incredibly counterproductive first halves. Most of all, they need to learn to play well for 60 minutes instead of 15.

The 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were good enough to crush the 2010 St. Louis Rams, but they played down to their opponent's level and barely won a one-point game. The Bucs should've destroyed the Redskins, but another one-point win, this time on a muffed extra point. Somehow Derek Anderson, Max Hall and the Cardinals defense managed to put up 35 points on the Bucs, more than any other team except the Steelers

The Bucs need to learn that while their quarterback has shown up late in games, they can't always rely on him to save the day. Instead, they have to learn to score points early, to play defense for four quarters and win games in a convincing fashion.