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Will the Buccaneers be “Tennessee-ready” this time around?

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There’s a major difference between 3-4 and 2-5.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The 2015 NFL regular season started with a marquee matchup between the Buccaneers and Titans at Raymond James Stadium. It was the No. 1 overall pick in that year’s draft — Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston — debuting against the No. 2 overall pick from that year — Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The Winston vs. Mariota debate was — and sometimes still is — intense. One game wasn’t going to decide anything, but that 2015 opener still felt like a big deal. Leading up to that big Week 1 matchup, then-Bucs head coach Lovie Smith repeatedly said his team wasn’t “Tennessee-ready.” But with months of preparation for this one opponent, game day would surely be a different story, right?

Wrong. The Bucs lost 42-14, proving they weren’t “Tennessee-ready.” It was a disaster, to say the least.

Fast forward four years. Winston is fighting for his Buccaneer career these days, and Mariota has been benched. It’s not Winston vs. Mariota III. It’s not a marquee matchup. But one thing is for sure. The Bucs better be “Tennessee-ready” this time around.

Tampa Bay has to be “Tennessee-ready” because the direction of the 2019 season is essentially on the line this Sunday. There is a vast difference between 3-4 and 2-5.

At 3-4, the .500 mark is right there. You can salvage your season, with an outside shot at going on a run to try to sneak your way into the playoff picture with over half the season left. But fall to 2-5 and you’re chasing .500 the rest of the year. Heading into the trade deadline, you become a seller. Winston falls under even more fire and talk becomes about free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft... before November even starts.

In 2015, the Bucs weren’t “Tennessee-ready” despite the fact that Tennessee was coming off a 2-14 season and starting a rookie quarterback just like them. Things are a little different in 2019, but this is still a beatable Titans team. And, all things considered, it’s easier to be confident in this Bruce Arians-led coaching staff than it was to trust the Lovie Smith-led staff. But can the team pull together and right the ship, so to speak?

Arians said before the loss in London that teams with good leadership don’t lose back-to-back games. If the Bucs lose three straight, with the third coming after a bye week? What then? Arians would surely have some things to say, and with the trade deadline looming, we might even see this roster shaken up a bit.

But the Bucs can’t let it get to that. They need to come out clicking on offense like they did in Los Angeles and put together a defensive effort like they did in Carolina. They need to win the turnover battle and avoid making the same mistakes that have led to their four losses. They need to play inspired, like their season truly is on the line. They need to be Tennessee-ready.

Kickoff for Sunday’s game at Nissan Stadium is set for 1:00 p.m.