Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: A victory that helps align expectations of Bucs, fans

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The conversation took place in the showers.

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and his teammates were cleaning up after Sunday's 19-17 hard-fought and — let's be honest — surprising victory over the Chiefs. Jameis turned to his buddies and said, "Man, this feels great."

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy looked at Winston and said, "But it's expected."

Winston thought about it for a second, then said: "He's right."

Okay, so maybe Winston and McCoy and the rest of the Bucs expected it, but no one else did. That's what makes the victory a statement win, a signature win — perhaps Tampa Bay's best since, well, can you remember one in recent memory?

Think about it. No way the Bucs were supposed to win this one.

In Kansas City? A hornet's nest of a place to play? Against a team that had won 17 of its past 19 regular-season games?

But not only did the Bucs win, they kicked the snot out of the Chiefs. Nothing fluky about it. Nothing that suggested they were lucky. This was a beatdown. The better team won. The only thing close was the score.

"It just means we can play with anybody," receiver Mike Evans said.

Almost as surprising as the Bucs pushing around the Chiefs is what the victory means. At 5-5, Tampa Bay is in the thick of the NFC South race, just a game behind the first-place Falcons. When the TV networks put up their playoff graphics, the Bucs will be listed among the wild-card hopefuls.

"If you want to make the playoffs, we knew we had to get this win," safety Chris Conte said. "We're trying to make the playoffs. We're trying to do everything we can. And we knew this game was integral to getting there."

Yeah, there's that word: playoffs. Don't laugh. They're a very real possibility.

The schedule, starting with the Seahawks on Sunday, won't be easy. The Cowboys are coming down the pike, too. But when the Bucs play as they did Sunday, you forget how bad they were against the Rams and Raiders, and realize how good they can be.

"We're jelling," safety Bradley McDougald said. "We're coming together one game at a time."

Everything was working Sunday.

Winston lit up a sturdy Chiefs defense for 331 yards passing in what might have been the best game of his career. Seven receivers caught passes. The third-down efficiency (11-of-16) was ridiculous.

Defensively, the Bucs smothered the Chiefs and came up with the key play of the game when Conte intercepted Alex Smith in the end zone and returned it 53 yards to midfield, setting up the Bucs' decisive scoring drive. Even Roberto Aguayo, with his four field goals and an extra point, was perfect.

You watch a game like this and you start to think the Bucs really have a shot to do something this season. Right, Dirk Koetter?

"That's up for you guys to say," Koetter said. "But (Sunday), we were a really good football team. We played well in all phases. … Shoot, I'm proud of these guys for the way they came in here."

You might say we've seen this movie before. Like last season. The Bucs were 6-6, the bottom dropped out, and they finished 6-10. But this team feels different. This team seems better.

"Definitely a big win," defensive end Robert Ayers said. "But we expect to win every time we go on the field."

There you have it. They expect to win. More performances like Sunday's and everyone else will start to expect it, too.

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