TAMPA — Nearing the end of his 14th season, CB Ronde Barber knows how precious playoff appearances can be.
"I've only been in the playoffs, what, seven times?" Barber asked rhetorically. "They're rare. I don't think these guys understand that."
That's why Barber was so mad last week after the Bucs blew a 10-point lead with 10 minutes left in a 28-24 loss to the Falcons.
At 7-5, Tampa Bay still is alive for an NFC wild-card spot. After today's game at Washington, the Bucs host Detroit and Seattle before finishing the regular season at New Orleans on Jan. 2.
But sometimes ignorance is bliss. Having the NFL's youngest team has enabled the Bucs not to dwell on defeats.
"I walked off the field and was talking to one of my coaches, and I said, 'You know, Ronde Barber is the only one still mad,' " coach Raheem Morris said. "But he was mad about the loss. Whereas these guys think it's over with. Like Ronde told me, these guys help me get out of the tank.
"He kind of said maybe that's what happened in '08. Everybody had so much urgency to win one game instead of just focusing on the next one."
For many Bucs players, this is their first opportunity to prove they belong in the NFL. So the goals are much shorter term than with veterans.
"I come in and I think I can give this great pick-me-up speech, and the guys are going nuts," Morris said. "They are all having a ball. Not that they're not (mad) about the loss, but it's, 'We've moved on; what is Coach going to give us to win this one game?'
"They kind of lead this thing with their youthful exuberance. All of them still come from the BCS world. They think if we win six we can go to a bowl game."
Practice makes perfect: If you are a practice squad player, typically you work Wednesday through Saturday. The hours aren't bad, and the compensation is decent, about $5,200 a week. But with some organizations, it can seem as if you're as close to being on the field as the guy in the front row.
Not so with the Bucs. This season, Tampa Bay has promoted nine players from its practice squad, including five of the eight original members.
Among the latest: S Vince Anderson and WR Dez Briscoe, two players who could figure prominently in the Bucs' future. Many of those players have made contributions, but the guy to watch is Briscoe.
"I'll talk about him now because no one can steal him," Morris said.
Briscoe was an All-Big 12 receiver at Kansas with 218 receptions for 3,240 yards and 31 touchdowns in three seasons. He entered the draft as a junior, but his stock slipped because of a poor time in the NFL scouting combine in the 40-yard dash.
The Bengals drafted Briscoe in the sixth round (191st overall), but when he was released, he signed with the Bucs' practice squad for roughly the rookie minimum of about $325,000.
That upset Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who accused Bucs general manager Mark Dominik of going against the league's salary structure for practice squad players.
"You're talking about a guy that's been wowing us in practice, a guy who can really compete very high in that receiver rotation when you talk about a pure receiver," Morris said. "We really are liking what we're seeing from him. We have the whole time. It's been a matter of numbers. It's been a matter of crunching numbers and having the best 61 men on the football team like we have all year."