At 7-8 entering the final week of games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to earn their first non-losing season since 2016, and just their second since finishing 10-6 in 2010.
Head coach Bruce Arians is spending Christmas with his family, as the team has the day off. Something not common in NFL life, and especially uncommon for Arians.
“...I haven’t had Christmas off in 27 years,” Arians said. “So I’m looking forward to it. Glad that we now played on Saturday.”
If you do the math, this is the first time in Arians’ too-short career as an NFL head coach that he’s spent December 25th entirely with his family. A first to be remembered, for sure.
Another first in Arians’ head coaching career nobody wants to see happen, could come to fruition on Sunday, if the Bucs lose to the Atlanta Falcons in Raymond James Stadium. A nine loss season.
Arians has just one losing season on his resume, coming in 2016 with the Arizona Cardinals who finished 7-8-1. More losses than wins, but not nine losses. And the difference between eight and nine is a lot different according to the coach himself who said, “8-8 tastes a whole lot better all offseason. So yeah, we talked about it in the locker room right after the game. There [are] no losers in this locker room - let’s make sure of it.”
It’s rare we hear a coach talk about final regular season records with such importance. But when you do, you can bet it’s coming from the coach of a team not making playoff plans.
Still, Arians isn’t wrong here. A 7-9 finish would be much different than an 8-8 final record. For starters, seeing Jameis Winston walk off the field a loser in his final home game of his rookie contract, is likely to fog some of the narrative surrounding the 25-year old’s future with the team.
After a 9-7 finish in 2016, just about everyone thought the team and their quarterback were playoff bound in 2017, and the sky was the limit from there. As it’s turned out, the limit was five. Just five wins in each of the last two seasons, blended into a chunky mess of suspensions and a benching by current Falcons offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter.
The Winston era in Tampa Bay has been anything but easy. To roll over and play dead would be easy in Week 17. There’s no Mike Evans. No Chris Godwin. No Jordan Whitehead. Everyone is tired, injured and they know their fate doesn’t include January football.
For that to happen though, would be another first in Arians’ career. Throughout his time as a football coach, players follow him. They bleed for him, and they never give up. Whether it’s off the field drama, injury, age, or even cancer. There’s no quit in Arians, and there’s no quit in the teams he coaches.
In fact, those things, become fuel for motivation. A reason to play better, give better effort and appreciate the opportunity to do what they get to do for a living. Coaches and players alike, they adopt the attitude and spirit of their head coach. And that’s why they don’t lose. At least, not most weeks.
And if this Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster maintains that trend, then this first Christmas off in 27-years will be the last until coach Arians retires for good. Maybe not even then.
Because a win this weekend not only preserves the fact this head coach has never hit nine losses as an NFL head coach. It allows the organization to move forward, not as losers trying not to lose, but as a team on the verge of entering the ranks of winning teams playing football into the new year.
We hear it all the time. This league is designed for teams to go 8-8. And if the Bucs can do that in 2019, they can turn their future focus to doing more. To winning more.
They can focus on drafting players who contribute in key roles to increase efficiency and lethality. Sign key free-agent(s) who can bring leadership and the ability to influence. Retaining the guys already contributing to building the team in the locker room and on the field that an Arians coached team should be. A team that wins.