Are the Bucs figuring out how to win games?
Based off of the last three weeks, I don’t see how one could think otherwise. Even though the Bucs were favorites coming into this game, they were just 1-2 as favorites before beating the Falcons back in Week 12.
Sunday’s win against the Colts was the type of win we haven’t seen around the Bay in ages. The Bucs overcame a multitude of factors - including losing Mike Evans in the first quarter - and found a way to beat the Colts and move to 6-7 on the season.
“We were able to stick together, make a turnover, get good pressure on the field goal miss, and go down and score to win the game,” Bruce Arians said after the game. “The resiliency of this team is growing on me. Three [wins] in a row. That’s a good football team [that is] missing some guys.”
That word - “resilient” - is the exact word to use when describing the victory over the Colts.
Evans injured in the first quarter? No big deal. Justin Watson will just step up (for the first time in his career, ever) and catch a career-high five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Jameis Winston fractured his thumb? Ok. He’ll just throw for a career-high in yards and become just the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 450+yards, four touchdowns, and record a rushing touchdown.
Jameis Winston is the third quarterback in NFL history to record at least 450 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in a single game, joining Normal Van Brocklin (Week 1, 1951) and Billy Volek (Week 15, 2004).— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 9, 2019
Down 14 in third quarter? Eh, the Bucs got this. They’ll just score 17 unanswered points, including the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
This comeback is something we haven’t seen in Tampa Bay in a really long time. Greg Auman, the Athletic’s local wizard who covers the Bucs, contextualized the comeback win quite eloquently on Twitter after the game:
And again, today's Bucs win ends a streak of 29 straight losses in games in which they trailed by eight or more points. Big comeback from down 14 in second half to beat Colts, 38-35.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) December 8, 2019
On top of the injuries and tough situations, the Bucs didn’t play their best game. Four turnovers and 35 points allowed would have doomed this team in the past, but for some reason, it was the opposite on Sunday.
Arians attributed it to a bad week of practice and a bad habit that was already forming within his team after two consecutive victories.
“We didn’t play our best by any stretch of the imagination. To still get a win, it builds the confidence. I talked to our team last night. I did not think that our team had a great week of practice. I thought we were all of a sudden resting on laurels that we don’t have. We don’t have any laurels to rest on. It kind of came out that way in the first half, but that’s why you play 60 minutes. They were able to regroup and get some things said and done and go back and win the ball game in the second half.”
The fact that Arians identified his squad’s complacency and immediately dismissed it is a new thought process with this current roster and the franchise. In fact, it could possibly be the first time this type of mentality has existed in Tampa Bay since Jon Gruden was dismissed after the 2008 season.
It’s exactly why he was brought in to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And he’s doing everything he can to instill said mentality. How many times have we seen the Bucs dig a hole they can’t get out of? How many times have we seen them make plays to lose a game, not win it? How many times have we seen this team collapse down the stretch of a game?
“Our guys don’t collapse,” Arians told reporters on Sunday.
That’s because this staff doesn’t harp on mistakes like former staffs did. They are here to build, not focus on previous missteps, which is how you get things done in the NFL. Don’t worry about what went wrong on a play, just figure out how to fix it and go get it done the next time you’re on the field.
The players have bought into this type of mentality all season long, but now it’s finally starting to show in the win column.
“We’re lucky to have the coaches that we have that continue to push us and continue to strive for resilience and that’s what we do,” Winston said. “We know we’re going to make some mistakes, but we’re not going to harp on those mistakes and we’re going to try and build.”
Other veterans, like linebacker Lavonte David, are noticing the change within One Buc, as well. “We’re not looking ahead, we’re taking it one game at a time, and focusing on the task at hand,” he said after the game. “That’s just getting better week by week and day by day. We’ve got a great leader in coach Bruce Arians, and the players fall into place. We’ve got a great captains to keep everybody levelheaded and understanding the task at hand.”
But tight end Cameron Brate said it best:
“The past couple years, I don’t think this is a game we would have won.”
This is Tampa Bay’s first three-game win streak since 2016 and just the sixth of the decade. It’s only the second three-game win streak of Jameis Winston’s career.
It seems pretty safe to say that this franchise has forgotten how to win over the years, but based off of the last few weeks, it looks like things are changing.
There’s still a lot of work left to do, though. The Bucs have to fix the issues with turnovers , pass protection, penalties, and in the secondary. The main point though, is that this team is learning how to win games.
And that’s a really good place to start.