Every team in the NFL begins the new season with a goal of reaching — and winning — the Super Bowl. Some, obviously, have more realistic chances than others.
A year ago, then-coach Lovie Smith had T-shirts printed up that read "California Dreamin', " an obvious nod to the fact that Super Bowl 50 would be played in San Francisco. In fact, the first tune played at the start of training camp was California Dreamin' by the Mamas & the Papas.
The dream died when, after fighting back to a 6-6 record, the Bucs lost their final four games and Smith was fired.
But it's a new year, and this team has a new vibe. It's the kind of quiet confidence that comes after three solid drafts brought a core of young talent.
Bucs DT Clinton McDonald was in Seattle during the second season at quarterback for Russell Wilson, who took that team to Super Bowl XLVII. Perhaps that's why he's not shying away from talk of playing in Super Bowl 51 in Houston.
"We've got to put our mind to where our true goal is, and that's going to the Super Bowl," McDonald said. "Every team talks about going to the playoffs, being successful, this that and the third. But Coach (Dirk) Koetter has raised that standard and said, 'Why not the Super Bowl?' And a lot of guys on this team, leaders especially, are saying that as well."
You're thinking the Bucs have a better chance of visiting Area 51 this weekend, right? McDonald and WR Mike Evans said after their 31-24 win over Atlanta last Sunday that the Bucs felt a buzz in the city about their team.
"The truth is they never got off (the bandwagon)," McDonald said. "But you want to make the city respect the team they're rooting for. And as a team in the city, you want to have respect for the fans and go out there and give your best effort.
"I'm somewhat the mule, and the rest of the guys are the mules. We're doing the work. We're not too much worried about the gray noise too much. We're worried about, are we doing the things we need to do?"
Koetter, who has talked about winning the Super Bowl to his team in meetings, has no problem with the chatter.
"I just tell the guys when they're talking about stuff, just own it," Koetter said. "Just own your words. Whatever you're going to say, back it up. We say things in the meeting room that I try to get those guys to buy into. But the bottom line is the players are going to believe what they believe is real. And if they talk about it, I just want them to be able to back it up."
CONVERSION PROBLEM: Jameis Winston threw four touchdowns to four receivers, so there's no reason to rehash any failures in Sunday's game, right?
The defense did a good job in the run game. Why darken the mood? The truth is the Bucs were only 3-of-10 on third downs.
Today's opponent, the Cardinals, converted 6 of 12 third downs last week, but the Patriots were 10-of-16 in their 23-21 win.
"Yeah, we weren't good in that area," Koetter said. "That's an area that we have to get better at, and I know that's something that Arizona will be focusing on as well because that probably won the game for New England. Their third-down conversion rate, they were excellent on third down. They got the third-and-mediums and they converted. We were not good enough in that area. Our defense was spectacular, 23 percent, but our offense was terrible. We've got to do better. We ran the ball two times on third down there at the end and another time. We had some opportunities and we have to do better."
RUNNING BACK HELP: The team signed Jacquizz Rodgers, who played for Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith when the two were in Atlanta, as their third running back. Rodgers was very productive in practice last week and should be active today. …Tough break for DE Jacquies Smith, who tore his ACL and is out for the season. Smith has 13½ sacks in two seasons.