Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rejects and journeymen getting the job done for the Bucs

The running back is just off of the street. When the Bucs found Bobby Rainey there, he had his thumb in the air, looking for whatever ride he could find.

The wide receiver was weighed, measured and found lacking. It was only later that the Bucs reconsidered the wonder that is Tiquan Underwood.

The tight end used to be a wide receiver. The fullback used to be a defensive end. The right tackle used to be a basketball player.

Whoever knew to look for this rag-tag bunch in an end zone?

Perhaps the most extraordinary part of the Bucs' recent turnaround is just how ordinary the pieces are. There is not a huddle in the NFL that impresses you less. No team has less pedigree, and not many have fewer stars. In other words, welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Once, the left tackle was claimed off someone else's waiver wire. The left guard is on his sixth team. The quarterback, at least, was drafted in the third round, but even then a lot of people thought that was too much to give.

This is who they are, rejects and journeymen, waiver wire veterans and bargains from the unemployment office. They are the All-American Rejects. They are the leftovers in the back of the fridge, the day-old doughnuts in the discount bin, the scuffed-up pennies you pick up on the sidewalk.

And look at them go.

No, individually they are not great, not in the you-can't-stop-these-guys definition of great. Many of these guys seem to be a half-step from the Arena League and two steps from being sporting goods salesmen. In a league of fireworks, they are a sparkler and a pinwheel.

Yet, over the past four games, the Bucs offense has found an identity, a rhythm. They still don't have a lot of highlights, and they don't make a lot of headlines. Still, behind this offense, behind Vincent Jackson and the Pips, the Bucs have won three in a row.

Over their past four games, the Bucs have scored 111 points. No, that isn't exactly scoring like it's pinball, but compared to the 103 points the Bucs managed in their first seven games, it's a step forward. Every now and then, it's a few steps forward.

"We play with a chip on our shoulders,'' Underwood said the other day.

Maybe that's part of it. Maybe it is a collective effort of players who have been told too many times what they are lacking. Maybe, in each other, they have a workmanlike strength.

Regardless, they are an argument against resumes. Yes, Davin Joseph was a first-round pick, and Jackson was a second. But outside of Tampa Bay, who could even pick another offensive Buccaneer out of a lineup? Certainly not Mel Kiper.

Give the Bucs credit for this much. They have lost most of their points-makers, and yet they are playing their best football of the year. Doug Martin? Hurt. Mike Williams? Done. Mike James? Finished. Josh Freeman? Gone.

And yet, somehow, the offense doesn't seem as helpless now as it did when it had all of those guys. Somewhere amid the bandages, this team found a way to survive. It runs the ball. It protects the ball. It gives itself a chance.

Take Sunday's game against the Lions. The Bucs simply could not run (0.9 yards per carry as a team). On the offensive line, there was not as much as a sliver of light. For most of the day, they didn't throw it great, either.

But they hung around, and when Glennon hit Underwood on an 85-yard touchdown pass, it was enough to grab the lead, and eventually the win.

This is who they are. They make just enough plays. They are not explosive, and they are not dynamic. They are, however, efficient.

That's who Glennon is, too. Right now, he is playing miles better than Freeman played at any point this year. Consider this: In his past four games, Glennon has three in which his quarterback rating was above 123. In 61 games, Freeman has done that only five times.

Why is Glennon's rating so high? Maybe it's because he takes care of the ball as if it were an explosive. He has one interception in his past 205 passes. Glennon reminds us that one of the primary steps toward winning is not to self-destruct, the way the Lions did on Sunday (four interceptions and a fumble). If a quarterback makes three positive plays, maybe four, and he doesn't make any negative ones, it can be enough.

Rainey had a tough time against the Lions (who are fourth in the league against the run). Still, the Bucs have run the ball 137 times in their past four games. It's the commitment that Tampa Bay has to have to have a chance.

Look at the huddle. You will see Tim Wright (undrafted) and Donald Penn (undrafted) and Demar Dotson (undrafted). You will see Jamon Meredith, who has bounced through six teams.

No, opposing defenses are not going to faint at the sight of them. They are not feared in the deep. Of all the teams in the NFL, they have still outgained only Jacksonville.

Lately, though, it has been better. When you consider how many of their players were found in the recycling bin, you might even suggest they are overachieving.

Up ahead, there is a first down marker.

If things happen just right, maybe this offense can get to the other side. And if so, maybe it can do it again.

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