TAMPA — Well, that certainly was an impressive victory. You could even go so far as to say the Bucs looked like a pretty darn good football team Sunday.
They played hard. They played smart. They played right. They and their much-maligned quarterback played football the way it's supposed to be played and, as a result, they clobbered the 49ers, 27-9, at Raymond James Stadium.
So now in the wake of the Bucs' most complete game of the season, what exactly do we make of it? And where do the Bucs go from here?
More to the point: did winning Sunday mean anything?
The short answer is: you bet.
This team desperately needed to win a game. Any game. At the same time, it really couldn't afford to lose this game.
We know for sure what a loss would have meant. It would have guaranteed the Bucs of not having a winning season. That almost certainly would lead to a total house-cleaning. And, hey, if you couldn't win Sunday's game, which games are you going to win?
Maybe Sunday's victory won't help Tampa Bay get to the playoffs. Maybe it won't lead to a winning record. Or even save the jobs of coach Dirk Koetter or general manger Jason Licht.
In fact, we might look back and talk about how this victory cost the Bucs a couple of spots in the draft.
But no self-respecting team is thinking about next year's draft, and while one victory doesn't erase what has been a lousy season, Sunday did prove that this team is still playing hard, still fighting, still believing. It proved that the Bucs aren't a lost cause, that when they do things the right way, they have the talent to be successful and victorious.
Come to think of it, you can say all the same things about quarterback Jameis Winston.
Most of all, Sunday proved that this team is still worth watching.
That's what a win can do for you. And, boy, after losing four in a row and seven of eight, did Tampa Bay need a win.
"The object of the game is to win,'' Koetter said. "All we can do is hang in there and keep coming to work. Hats off to all the players for hanging with it and continuing to battle.''
A cynic would rain on this beautiful day by saying it was no big deal, maybe even fool's gold. The Bucs beat up on a bad team playing their third-string quarterback and missing a bunch of other players, including a linebacker who was cut after spending the morning in the clink for a domestic violence allegation.
But that's a bunch of hogwash. This is the NFL. You play who you play when you play them. The league is full of crummy teams having a bad day with missing players. You don't throw any victories back and you never apologize for them.
The Bucs didn't schedule Sunday's game. They just happened to take advantage of it by doing everything good football teams do. And don't do.
The Bucs didn't turn the ball over once. They didn't miss any kicks. They didn't beat themselves.
They took an early lead and kept it. They got to the other team's quarterback. They got two turnovers themselves.
You watch the Bucs play like that, you watch Winston play like that and you can't help but wonder where they would be if they had played like that all season.
"You can't play that woulda, coulda, shoulda game because you can't bring them back,'' Koetter said. "Once they're gone, they're gone.''
All the Bucs can do is look forward.
Look, do I think this team makes the playoffs? No. That remains a long shot.
Do I think Koetter and Licht are back next season? The Glazers are unpredictable, but their patience likely runs out if the Bucs end up with a losing record.
Do I think Winston returns? I'm not sure anyone knows the answer to that.
But all of that — the playoffs, the futures of Koetter, Licht and Winston — remains up in the air, meaning there is still plenty left to play for.
"There is always a lot to play for,'' Winston said. "The challenge we have mentally, physically in this great game of football is tough. But we've been playing this game for a long time, since we were kids. So we've always got to play for something.''
If nothing else, Sunday's game proves the Bucs are still playing for something and, more importantly, playing as hard as they can.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones