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The Bucs can’t afford a setback against the Giants and they know it

The Bucs are rounding into shape, but a loss on Monday Night would put a major dent in the recent progress.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Las Vegas Raiders
Rob Gronkowski is starting to make his presence felt on the Bucs.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Buccaneers are 5-2 and flying high as they currently sit atop the NFC South and hold the NFC’s No. 3 seed.

Tampa Bay leads the league in points scored (222) and are third in points per game (31.7). The defense has allowed the eighth-fewest total points and eighth-fewest points per game (20.3). It’s the same story when it comes to advanced metrics, where the Bucs currently possess the sixth-best offensive DVOA and the top defensive DVOA in the NFL.

It’s clear the Bucs are beginning to establish themselves and there’s no better opportunity to further that process than against a reeling 1-6 Giants team on Monday Night Football.

The Giants aren’t good. They are at the bottom of the league in just about every statistic on offense —they score just 17.4 points per game, for starters— and while there are promising numbers on defense, there are still areas to exploit.

Despite the issues and deficiencies, head coach Joe Judge remains optimistic about where his team is and where it’s heading.

“I believe we’re fully on track,” Judge told reporters earlier in the week. “There is always a big-picture perspective you’ve got to keep in mind. When I look down the road and I have my vision for what this team needs to be, how we need to work to be there, how we have to play for each other collectively and the foundation we have to lay, there are a lot of things that are getting accomplished.

We’re still playing for wins. We’re not asking the fans to go ahead and be happy with mediocre results. When you look at the players we’re building with, I see a lot of progress and I see us moving in the right direction.”

There’s a lot to like about this matchup if you’re the Bucs —and if you’re a fan— but there’s also a lot to be wary of.

For starters, this is the NFL and any team can win any given week. Daniel Jones can create problems with his legs and the Bucs saw in 2019 what he’s capable of, even if this year has been different. The Giants’ defense has the ability to make plays and can hold its own even with an offense that plays the complete opposite of complimentary football. Judge (while I often question how much familiarity between coaches, players, and teammates actually affects matchups) was around Tom Brady for eight seasons. And when you throw in the fact that this game is on Monday Night Football, you know the Giants will be primed and ready to go.

Then there’s always the “overlook” factor. The Bucs will face off against the Saints on Sunday Night Football in Week 9. There’s a great chance that game could determine who wins the NFC South, therefore, the Bucs could overlook the Giants while awaiting their pivotal division matchup.

Judge’s optimism and message can also serve as a vote of confidence in the team and you never know what that can do for a player’s (or players’) psyche.

But when you listen to Devin White, a lot of the aforementioned trepidation toward the upcoming matchup fades.

“We’re just looking to win the next game,” Devin White told reporters on Thursday. “I think that’s the most important thing right now for us because when we went to Chicago, we knew we were the better team, but we didn’t show up. I think the only thing now is just showing up for the game that’s scheduled and not looking for two weeks [ahead]. We’re just looking for this week. I think the only focus for us is Monday night and going out there to show that we are who we’re playing like.”

It sounds like the Bucs know what they’re up against this week. A loss to the Giants in primetime would not only knock them down a notch in the division standings and the overall NFC standings, but it would also put a major dent in the team’s recent accomplishments. It’s a situation they have to avoid, entirely.

Fortunately, the team also has the calming-and-always-prepared presence of Brady, whose winning ways seem to finally be permeating throughout the locker room. He knows that this game is just as important as any other game and that this is a week-to-week league. Anything can happen if you allow it.

“We’re fighting and clawing for every win,” Brady said. “We’ve got to obviously take our performance to the next level and that starts in practice. We’ve got to execute in practice, we’ve got to trust one another, we’ve got to communicate through difficult looks. It’s a team that we’re playing this week in the Giants that presents a lot of defensive looks [and] a lot of different fronts. Our identification is very important – they rotate a lot of guys in defensively [and] there’s a lot of different coverage schemes they use. They put a lot of pressure on the offense to communicate well [and] to make pre-snap decisions [and] post-snap decisions. It’s going to be a tough, hard-nosed game. We’re going on the road – Monday night game in primetime – we’re going to be at our best.”

That kind of focus and mentality is what turns teams into consistent winners and it’s what should keep the Bucs afloat on Monday night.

Tampa Bay is aware of what needs to be done. Now it’s time to go out and make it happen.