Admit it, fellow Bucs fan. You saw Atlanta and New Orleans go down. Washington and the Giants losing and then the Bucs were struggling against a tough and gritty Chargers team on the road.
That doubt began to creep in just a little bit, didn't it? The ghosts of the past, where so many Bucs teams had blown excellent opportunities to be a factor in the NFC playoff race. Yes, it felt like Sunday the Bucs were about to do it again.
Then, something amazing happened - they won! They won and moved into the last wildcard spot with only 4 weeks left to play. They won and are now tied for first in the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons.
1. The Buccaneers were 1-10 in their last 11 games played in December. That's a staggering mark. Meanwhile, Chargers QB Phillip Rivers came in with the second most December wins by a QB since 2006 (35, only Brady's 37 is better). Add to that the Bucs in their 41 year history had never won two games in California in a single season, the Bucs were underdogs coming into this game despite their quality wins at Kansas City and home against Seattle.
Watching the Chiefs continue to find ways to win the past two weeks and watching Seattle utterly destroy the Panthers should make you feel better about those victories, but make no mistake, this San Diego win was a quality victory as well.
Despite their 5-7 record, the Chargers offense is one of the best in the league and like the Bucs, they had won 4 of their last six coming into the contest (including quality wins over the Falcons and Broncos).
Coming off a tough, physical game and flying cross country to face the Chargers, it wasn't going to be an easy game for the Bucs and they were fighting it a bit early on Sunday.
It took maybe a half for Tampa Bay to get back to playing football the way we've seen them for the last month. Thankfully, the Bucs didn't let the game get away from them in the first half, got some crucial plays on defense and Jameis was able to complete the comeback despite sustaining some big injuries to the receiving core.
2. We don't know the severity of Doug Martin's injury, he did return to the game so it's likely he will be fine. What's not fine is his game. Martin continues to struggle to make things happen in the running game, but I'm honestly not sure if it's him or just the scheme. It seems when Martin is in the game, opponents gear up to stop the run. With Jacquizz Rodgers or Peyton Barber in, teams aren't sure if its going to be a run or a pass, with Martin in - they assume it's a run and sell out.
Of course, Jameis Winston has benefited from this by being absolutely deadly on play action, but Martin's numbers had suffered. For every 10-12 yard burst, he has a pitch outside for a loss of four, or he's hit in the backfield for another 2 or 3 loss or no gain.
Martin is averaging a pitiful 3.0 yards per carry and he doesn't have a run over 20 yards this season.
If Martin is healthy enough to continue to play in the final quarter of the season, the Bucs will have an interesting quandry of fitting him in along with Charles Sims (who should be back for the Saints game) and Rodgers, who showed some excellent burst again.
3. The Bucs once again won the turnover battle with two second half interceptions of Phillip Rivers, the last essentially sealing away the ballgame. Lavonte David's pick-six was a game changing moment, lifting the Bucs into the lead and providing a little confidence to a team that seemed to not be able to get over the hump.
Of course, the defense would surrender the lead on the very next drive, but overall, Tampa Bay played some very solid defense in the second half, limiting the powerful Chargers offense to just 7 points. Tampa Bay actually outscored San Diego 21-7 in the second half, allowing the Bucs to rally from their 7 point halftime deficit.
Winning the turnover battle has been key for the Buccaneers' resurgence. Early in the season, the Bucs were losing the turnover battle badly and it cost them a lot of games. During this hot streak, the Bucs are making game changing or game sealing plays on defense while the offense (for the most part) has taken care of the football.
Sure, Jameis continues to make that one or two throws that make you go, huh? However, he's still playing at a pretty high level since the Atlanta debacle.
4. Red zone troubles continue for the Bucs on offense. Tampa Bay was a miserable 2-for-5 in the Chargers Red zone, including one trip that came up empty for points when Roberto
Aguano Aguayo some how managed to miss a 31 yard field goal. The rookie kicker would connect on two other field goals in the game, but settling for field goals especially with the worst kicker in the NFL ( Aguano Aguayo is dead last in field goal percentage) is not a recipe for success.
The Bucs have to convert these opportunities into touchdowns. Tampa Bay is ranked 20th in the NFL in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns (53.5%)
On the bright side, the Bucs are much better when they get into goal-to-go situations. The Bucs actually lead the league in converting those opportunities into touchdowns at a remarkable 87.5%.
5. Jameis Winston threw an ugly interception in the first half and narrowly missed a second one, but Jameis was against outstanding on the day. While the Bucs still struggled getting the ball in the end zone, Jameis continued to put them in position to succeed. This, despite losing Cecil Shorts and Adam Humphries early in the game and having to rely on practice squad guys like Freddie Martino to get the ball down the field.
San Diego basically took the running game away, forcing Jameis to beat them, and beat them he did, connecting with Cameron Brate on a 12 yard touchdown pass to take the lead with 9:01 left in the game.
Winston set an NFL record for passing yards thrown in a career by a player under the age of 23, he also went over 3,000 yards passing for the second time in his NFL career and bested last year's 22 TD passing, tossing his 23rd touchdown pass of the season.
Winston has a realistic shot at both 4.000 yards passing and 30 touchdowns on the year.
More importantly, the Bucs have won 6 of their last 8 games. Victories are what NFL quarterbacks are judged upon and that's something Jameis is getting better at, too.
6. The last time the Buccaneers won four straight games was in Greg Schiano's first season as head coach. The Bucs were 6-4 and smack dab in the middle of the playoff chase, just like they are today. Then, they fell apart, losing five of their last six to finish the season a disappointing 7-9. It's fully understandable if you have that little bit of doubt left. How many times has this team broken our hearts?
This Bucs team feels different, though. Tampa Bay is in control of it's playoff fate. When I do the "DLT's crazy wildcard scenarios" later this week, it's pretty darn simple for the Bucs. Win...and you're in. It doesn't matter what the Falcons do or the Washington franchise or the Giants or Packers - it doesn't matter. Win and you're playing in January.
Now, of course the Falcons losing would definitely help the Bucs take a division championship - the easiest route to the playoffs. It would be Tampa Bay's first since their last playoff appearance in 2007.
Three of the Bucs last four games are against teams with losing records...but they're also division games, which means it's gonna be a dog fight. There's nothing the Saints or Panthers would love more than ruining the Bucs' chances at a playoff run.
The Cowboys game was flexed to Sunday Night football, meaning the entire nation will get to see if the Bucs are for real or not against the best team in the NFC.
Atlanta does have the inside track to a division title, facing the Rams in LA and the 49ers in Atlanta in the next couple of weeks, then finishing off against the Panthers and Saints.
If both teams win out, Atlanta wins the tie breaker over Tampa Bay based on best win percentage in common games.
If each drop a game, what matters is WHO they lose to. We'll get more into that later this week.
7. Many experts picked against the Buccaneers this week. I'm confused as to why. The Bucs have beaten some of the best teams in the league, they were 4-1 on the road and while San Diego is a solid football team, they aren't world beaters. I guess it was the east coast going to the west coast thing but the Bucs had already won doing that this season.
One expert, Sirius XM's James Lofton, told a worried Charger fan that don't worry about a Tampa takeover at the stadium this week, because there aren't any Buc fans who travel. Well, the west coast Bucs fans, the Bucaholics, proved them wrong didn't they? It must have been surreal for Jameis and the boys to see that many red jerseys in the stands of a road game.
Great job Bucaholics, for giving the Bucs a home field advantage on the road. No, we're not the Packers or the Raiders or Cowboys, but when this team gives Bucs fans something to believe in, they come out in droves.
8. One very interesting development in the second half was rookie free agent Javian Elliot replacing Alterraun Verner as the nickel corner on defense. Elliot would play 42% of the defensive snaps and while he didn't record a tackle or pass defensed, it was fascinating to see that the Chargers, who were picking on Verner throughout the first half, didn't seem to test the rookie in the second half.
9. Next up, the hated Saints, who got their backsides handed to them at home against the Detroit Lions. We all remember last season, after a rousing victory over the Atlanta Falcons that put the Bucs into playoff conversation, Tampa Bay laid an egg the following week against New Orleans and it began a four game collapse that saw the Bucs out of the playoffs and Lovie Smith out of a job.
If the Bucs hope to win the NFC South, they must win their division games and hope Atlanta stumbles against either Carolina or New Orleans in the final weeks.
10. DLT's Game Tweet of the Week