What if Lavonte David had pulled up?
What if, during those frenzied final moments of the Jets' game, David had just escorted Geno Smith out of bounds? After all, David is a terrific player. What if he recognized that a quarterback going out of bounds was a hands-off play, and because if it, the Bucs hold off the Jets?
Would the Bucs be 3-7 today instead of 2-8?
What if Greg Schiano had trusted Josh Freeman?
What if things hadn't become so strained that Schiano turned Freeman into a bystander during the Saints game? What if he had let Freeman throw the ball on third and 6 near the end of the game? Or, another way to put it, what if he had grown so fed up with Freeman that he sent him to the skybox a couple of weeks earlier? What if the Bucs protected their late lead against the Saints?
Would the Bucs be 4-6 today?
What if Mike Glennon had done a better job of protecting the ball against Arizona?
What if that wasn't Glennon's first start? What if, by then, Glennon was as accurate as he has been lately (one interception in his past 184 passes)? What if he protected the ball, and the lead, instead of throwing two interceptions on the team's final three possessions?
Would the Bucs be 5-5 today?
What if they had closed the door, just one more time, against Seattle? What if the MRSA scandal had never happened?
Here, in these giddy days of two in a row, this is what back-to-back wins have earned for the Bucs. Just like that, you are able to look differently at that horrible first half of the season.
That's how it works. When a team is losing, everything is miserable, and all you can see is ugly. But when a team is winning, you can also look back and see the games that got away.
These days, it is possible to wonder what would have happened to the psyche of this team if it had gotten off to a better start. If they beat the Jets, which they should have, or the Saints, which they could have, or the Cardinals, which they might have, how would that have affected them in other games?
Oh, you can drive yourself crazy playing this game. All bad teams do it, and usually, it offers up a lot more frustration that it does consolation. Spin things hard enough, and everyone knows you can turn the 0-16 Lions of 2008 into a wild-card contender. Beauty contestants are fashioned from such makeup.
Let's be honest: the NFL is a league of close games, and bad teams often try to make them look better than the final result. Consider this: Houston is also 2-8, but has lost four games by a total of 10 points. Minnesota is 2-8, but has lost three by a total of nine points. So what? The world is filled with teams on their way to nowhere trying to imagine where they would be if they had won this close game or that one. In the NFL, no one gets a mulligan.
Let's be honest. This Bucs team was never going to challenge for the championship. But could it have been a .500 team? Well, maybe.
That's how much the feel of a season has changed around here. A couple of weeks ago, at 0-8, this was the NFL's wasteland. There were skulls and vultures and wavy stink lines. Soon, everyone was going to get fired.
Then came a win against Miami, a bad team, and Atlanta, a bad team, and suddenly, everyone is smiling. There isn't a two-win team in the league where the locker room feels better. It's like talking to a guy who is a little sickly, and he says, "Yeah, but two weeks ago, I was dead.''
These days, Schiano looks less like a bully and more like a guy who convinced his team to stay with the season. These days, Glennon looks less like a wobbly replacement and more like a kid who improves by the week. Two wins, and the viewpoint changes.
Will it last? Who knows? Detroit will be a handful on Sunday; Calvin Johnson can get to places vertically that the Bucs can't cover. The 49ers are ahead. The Panthers are ahead. The Saints are ahead.
That's the NFL, too. If this team hits another dip, then this two-game streak will be quickly forgotten, and the bad headlines will return, and just like that, Schiano's office will be getting measured for the next coach's furniture.
For now, however, things feel as good around the Bucs as they have for a while.
They've only won two.
But it's been in a row. Yippee.
And that's the thing. When you have been living underground, even a small hill feels like a mountain.