TAMPA — Yeah, he said it, they're going to be the best team in the NFC South.
Raheem Morris has spawned some terrific sound bites as he enters his third season as Bucs coach. "It's the race to 10." "We're the best team in the NFC. Yeah, I said it." "We're a youngry team."
After improving from 3-13 to 10-6, at least nobody doubts if Morris can back the smack.
But in the rough-and-tumble NFC South, in which the Bucs were looking up at the Falcons and Saints last season, 10 wins doesn't guarantee a postseason berth.
Like every year, Morris says the goal is to win the division. Furthermore, he's convinced the Bucs can accomplish it in 2011.
"Once you have an opportunity to get into the playoffs, you never know what can happen," Morris said. "With us, our whole deal is the only way we're guaranteed to get in — after winning 10 games and not getting in — is to win the division.
"We showed we can play with anybody. We know that. We have the ability to do that; good teams, bad teams. We've gotten beaten by good teams and beaten handily by some good teams. But we've also beaten some good teams. So you never know."
A year ago, the Bucs' 23-20 overtime loss to the Lions proved to be the one that knocked them from the postseason.
"It was a tiebreaker between us and Green Bay (for the wild card), and they went in and won the tournament," Morris said. "They're the champions, and they deserved it. They have a great young quarterback (Aaron Rodgers), a good young football team. We'll see those guys at some point. Right now, we have to be about winning championships. That starts with the division championship."
BIG PLAY TRIPLETS: In the preseason, Josh Freeman did not throw for a touchdown, Mike Williams did not catch a touchdown and LeGarrette Blount did not run for a touchdown.
What's more, Blount gained just 2.1 yards per carry and big plays on offense didn't materialize. Should Bucs fans be worried?
"I think our timing is a little off; for the running game at least. And it's been breakdowns by one player here or there," C Jeff Faine said. "It's not a repeat offender or anything. It's just a hair step away and somebody grabbing (Blount's) foot a little bit. But as the season goes, I think we'll get it going.
"I think getting out there and grinding out a complete game and having a chance to put some work out there and letting these guys get a rhythm; those big defensive linemen seem like they weigh a little less as the game wears on."
BY THE NUMBERS: The Bucs projected starting lineup today includes 19 players who began their careers with Tampa Bay. The exceptions are Faine, TE Kellen Winslow and S Sean Jones. By comparison, three of the NFL's most successful franchises — the Packers, Colts and Steelers — feature at least 18 starters who have spent their entire career with the team.