TAMPA — Linebacker Geno Hayes said there's nothing like going into an opposing team's stadium and hearing a collective hush roll over the crowd.
"You go out and make plays and take momentum and have it on our side," the third-year player said. "It's like, 'Okay, now we have it in our control.' "
That has happened more often recently for the Bucs, who have won four consecutive road games dating to last season, their longest such streak since winning five in a row from 2002-03. Such success has the young team confident heading into a tough stretch of four road games in five weeks, starting Sunday in Arizona.
"We kind of thrive on that environment," coach Raheem Morris said. "We like that hostile environment. We like when people don't believe in us. We like when people tell us what we can't do, and my young team kind of thrives on it."
Other than feeding off the "us-against-the-world" mentality, players say there are several other reasons for their improved performance away from Raymond James Stadium.
• Guard Davin Joseph said there has been a mind-set change. "We look at it as a business trip instead of an away game," he said. Joseph said Morris ignited this turnaround after the loss to the Patriots on Oct. 25, 2009, in London. Multiple players broke curfew after that game, with Morris having a heated conversation with cornerback Aqib Talib, who was among the late returnees. Joseph said since that trip, the Bucs have a different standard of dress — typically business casual on the plane rides out — and are expected to carry themselves differently around the hotel. "It's not just said, 'You have curfew,' " Joseph said. "It's regulated. You take it more seriously."
While wearing a shirt and tie doesn't count for any points on the field, Joseph said it's just one of the little things that pay off. "When you take things more seriously, you usually perform better — that's in life," he said.
• There has been more stability. Between second-year quarterback Josh Freeman coming into his own, racking up five fourth-quarter comebacks, and the defense getting used to Morris running things, the group has enjoyed more continuity since last year, when two coordinators were fired and several veterans (Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn among them) were released.
"I think we draw closer together and I can't really say play better, but I think everyone feels comfortable on the road," Freeman said. "I feel great on the road. You're in a hostile environment, but at the same time, you're with all your guys, it's you against the other team and the stadium. I really think that our guys have done a great job stepping up and playing well on the road."
• There's the competition. To be fair, the Bucs' four-game streak includes a huge win over the Saints last year, one of the biggest upsets of the NFL season. But the two wins this year have come against the Panthers (1-5) and the Bengals (2-4), two teams that won't be labeled Super Bowl contenders. There were familiar themes to both victories, though; Tampa Bay won the turnover battle in each, including forcing four Bengals miscues and not turning the ball over at all against Carolina. The Bucs also converted at least 40 percent of their third downs.
They'll need more of the same in these upcoming road matchups, especially in trips to face AFC power Baltimore (5-2) and NFC South-leading Atlanta (5-2). Win a few of those, and, as safety Sabby Piscitelli quips, there may be another added benefit.
"It'll be exciting, good road trips, get out to the West Coast and get some exposure over there," Piscitelli said. "At least we won't be blacked out, so fans, maybe they'll see us win away games, and they'll come to our next home game."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.