TAMPA — The Bucs have put themselves into a conversation few expected to be having around these parts.
With three straight wins and 5-4 record, the Bucs are legitimately in the NFC playoff picture. Just don't expect the Bucs to participate in the dialogue.
"You guys (media) take care of that," coach Greg Schiano said. "I don't need to. (The players) are very aware of what's at stake and what could potentially be. … What you can control is what happens out there on the practice field, what happens in the meeting room, how we prepare."
One season removed from a stretch of 10 consecutive losses, the Bucs could be playing pivotal games as this season winds down. If the playoffs started today, Tampa Bay would be half a game out of the second wild-card spot behind the 6-4 Seahawks and Vikings. The Packers (6-3) would grab the first wild card.
The Bucs are followed by a quartet of 4-5 clubs — the Saints, Cardinals, Lions and Cowboys — all of whom have displayed weaknesses and inconsistencies.
The Bucs' remaining schedule is challenging. It includes two games against the Falcons, and trips to Denver and New Orleans. But playing for tangible goals would provide inspiration that was missing in 2011.
"Winning three games in a row is definitely momentum for us and gives us motivation to go out there and do what we do," RB Doug Martin said. "We're right where we want to be."
Said Schiano: "If you keep (preparing well) in each one-game season, you're going to win your share and then look up at the end and see if it's good enough. My whole thing is, we'll judge it when it's over. Right now, we're in it. Just keep moving forward."
WRIGHT INJURY: The Bucs have been winning with a secondary that is giving up a disconcerting amount of yardage.
With top CB Eric Wright missing most of Sunday's game after re-injuring his Achilles, things remain shaky in the defensive backfield.
Schiano said the team felt confident Wright was ready to return after practicing. He had missed practices the previous week because of the Achilles but had not missed any games.
His status is unclear.
"It's a continuation of what he was dealing with," Schiano said. "He practiced last week, so I really thought he was going to be fine. But then he re-tweaked it. He played well up until he did it. He had a nice (tackle for loss) and it was good to have him going."
When Schiano got word from team trainer Todd Toriscelli that Wright was out, Schiano said: "Let's keep going. It changed things. Compliments to the guys who jumped right in there and played. That's what you have to do."
The defense has offset its league-worst average in passing yardage with 15 interceptions, third-most in the NFL.
TIGHTENED UP: The Bucs committed 14 penalties Nov. 4 in the win at Oakland, but on Sunday had one penalty for 5 yards.
"Obviously that was a problem the week before," Schiano said. "That was something we talked about as a team. We always work on it but there was a special emphasis. That was a marked improvement."