This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists John Romano and Gary Shelton:
JR: The Bucs have five victories, and four of them have been by margins of three points or less. That's more than any team in the NFL. Tell me, Gary, which is the more likely reason: clutch play, great coaching or good luck?
GS: From that list, I'd say clutch play, but all are factors. So is a soft schedule, young players with speed and the occasional brain hiccup by the opposing coach. I don't know if it's the Jedi mind trick, but something about the Bucs makes other coaches stupid.
JR: Consider it cosmic payback. After all, this is a franchise that once employed Leeman Bennett, Ray Perkins and Richard Williamson. In succession.
GS: When mentioning those three, John, you should try never to use a word that starts with "success."
JR: Okay, here's another question: Have all of these close victories bolstered confidence and taught a young team to win, or is it just a sign that some evil fate is about to befall the Bucs?
GS: Well, look who dressed up as The Riddler for Halloween. Or did you just buy a whole bagful of question marks? Let's see. Yes, it has bolstered confidence. Yes, it is teaching the Bucs to win, but I'm not sure the lesson is over. As far as evil fate, I don't think the success of the season's first two months suggests the Bucs are heading for a fall. But three road games in the next four looks formidable, doesn't it? Better coaches and better quarterbacks ahead look more formidable. It's going to be tough for the Bucs to be as good in the second half as they were in the first, don't you think?
JR: No, I don't think they can keep up this pace the rest of the way, but they don't necessarily have to. A hot start means they only need to go .500 the rest of the way, and they will still be in contention. And that's way ahead of their curve.
GS: That really is impressive. It doesn't matter whom they've beaten or who has played quarterback. They have a chance to double last year's victory total by the halfway mark. So while guys like us are professionally bound to point out the things they are not, you also have to admit the things they are. And that starts with the word "better." Still, do you think the Falcons are nervous when they see the game films?
JR: I don't think they make anyone nervous, and maybe that's part of the secret. You look at the offense and say they don't run the ball very well. You look at the defense and say they don't get after quarterbacks with much ferocity. Yet, by the fourth quarter, the Bucs are still in the game.
GS: In the NFL, that's a lot of the battle. It also helps if you have a quarterback who plays as if they invented the fourth quarter just for him. I'll say this: These Bucs have usually beaten teams their size. I'm not sure if Atlanta, playing in the Georgia Dome, isn't too much to ask. You picked against the Bucs last week, Swami. What do you see happening this week?
JR: What's more likely: the Bucs losing, or me being wrong again? I gotta tell ya, neither is much of a stretch.
GS: I'm betting on you. After all, the Bucs can lose only once a week. You're able to work wrong into every conversation you have.
JR: Excellent point. So I'll continue to play the role of heavy (and let's see how far you can hit that one) and say the Bucs fall a little short this week. Let's see a show of hands. Who's with me on this one?
GS: Okay, my hand's in the air. I think any objective onlooker would say the Falcons have to be the pick. They're at home, where Matt Ryan turns into Dan Marino, and they're balanced. Put it this way: If the Bucs win today, Raheem Morris won't be the only guy saying the Bucs are the best team in the NFC. Heck, he and I might sing a duet.
JR: Simon and Garfunkel have never felt so threatened.
GS: Can I be Simon? Garfunkel always looked like he had just come from electroshock therapy to me.
JR: I'm not sure anyone in Hollywood would choose Wilford Brimley to play Paul Simon, but you keep on dreaming. Meanwhile, we're in agreement that A) either the Bucs lose or B) we have to trade in our sarcasm for pompoms next week.
GS: Coming from Randy Quaid, that seems unduly harsh. But yeah, winning this game means the Bucs aren't just succeeding in the Division II category of the NFC. This one is for legitimacy. Call it the Take The Bucs Seriously bowl.