Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fennelly: Bask in that winning glow, Bucs fans

It's Afterglow Monday.

Overreaction Monday is out this week. OM was running well ahead of Bucs reality for much of this season, but now it's looking over its shoulder. Have results caught up with overreaction?

Bucs fans, meet your playoff contender.

Your guys are right behind Washington for the final wild card.

Ah, that afterglow.

Whether it will be like that when the Bucs return from San Diego, we'll see.

You know this West Coast trip is the perfect setup for a Bucs letdown, don't you?

The young Bucs, on a three-game win streak, feeling good, against the 5-6 Chargers, last in the AFC West.

But San Diego has been in most of its games, and its defense is edging toward respectability. Joey Bosa has been huge and Philip Rivers is Philip Rivers.

Beware.

On the other hand, didn't the Bucs just go through an alleged letdown game?

They were coming off a large upset at Kansas City and perfectly set up for a fall to Seattle.

These were great Bucs wins.

Ah, that afterglow.

Find me someone who can cover Mike Evans these days. Evans beat double teams Sunday, beat everybody. Jameis Winston, when he didn't force things, was very good. And Doug Martin's long-lost hammy is back and beginning to make waves, with 87 rushing yards Sunday. And the Bucs offensive line is on a roll.

But it's the Bucs defense that has turned heads. These guys looked awful for a good chunk of the season. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith looked like a guy with no handle on things. Now they're world beaters. They gave up a combined 73 points in two weeks against Atlanta and Oakland. Chicago, Kansas City and Seattle have combined for just 32 points during the win streak.

The Bucs have 18 takeaways in their past seven games. Russell Wilson, who had thrown two interceptions all season, was picked off twice by the Bucs when the Bucs weren't sacking him six times.

I still say if the Bucs went to Atlanta tomorrow, they'd give up 35 to the Falcons.

You're never completely who you look like in a loss or completely who you look like in a win.

You can't be blinded by afterglow.

In fact, Sunday's game could be the difference between afterglow and afterthought.

The Bucs have won five of seven, but I say they'll have to go 4-1 the rest of the way to have any playoff shot. I don't think they're ready to be a playoff team, even now, though I picked them to beat the Seahawks.

But San Diego is key. The Bucs face only one team with a winning record over their final five games, and it isn't the Chargers, but San Diego is a team the Bucs need to beat if they're going to finish 10-6.

Look at the rest of the schedule. The Bucs play 5-6 New Orleans twice. It will be hard to beat Drew Brees and the Saints twice in three weeks. In between is a trip to Dallas. Can't see the Bucs stopping the Cowboys. The Bucs finish with the Panthers, who should show up with golf clubs.

I'm seeing 3-2 at best. But 4-1 is a possibility if the Bucs start out with a win in San Diego.

Remember, the Bucs were in the general vicinity of this neighborhood last season, 6-6 and looking to finish strong. They went 0-4 down the stretch. Out went Lovie. It was too big a test for a young team that didn't have the mentality of the grind, that every week was going to be must win.

The Bucs are still young. We're about to see what they learned from 2015. Their 4-1 road record this season speaks to some mental toughness. Now they just need to say a little more.

History suggests the Bucs get slapped around Sunday. They're feeling good, and how do you get that out of your heads when you get on the plane? The tests keep coming. That's how it works when you want to be a playoff team. Afterglow Mondays don't mean much come Sundays.

Still, it's a pretty good glow.

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