At 32, WR Vincent Jackson is entering the December of his career, but his goal was for the Bucs to play meaningful games in the final month of the season and, he hopes, earn a playoff spot. Turns out his wish could be granted.
At 6-6, the Bucs are one game behind Seattle (7-5) for the final NFC wild card and could draw within a half-game of Minnesota (8-5) by the time they leave St. Louis on Thursday.
"We've been working pretty hard throughout the year just to give ourselves an opportunity to get here, but it's definitely something now that we're aware of," Jackson said. "It's not something that we think is voodoo to talk about. It's right there, it's in front of us. It's our opportunity, we need to seize it. We continue to talk about seizing the opportunity."
The Bucs are expecting a near-sellout at Raymond James Stadium today. Not many will be rooting for the Saints, who are in last place in the NFC South and have the league's worst defense.
Before the season, coach Lovie Smith talked about being relevant again and putting a good product on the field. Check both boxes. The Bucs haven't made the playoffs since 2007, Jon Gruden's next-to-last season, and haven't had a winning season since 2010.
Now both seem possible if the Bucs can continue on a roll the final month of the season.
"We feel like our fans have been super throughout," Smith said. "I think if there's a bad product on the field, who wants to come and watch a bad product on the football field?
"We haven't played as well as we needed to early on. Now we are playing better. We know in order for us to really make a push we need our fans with us. Raymond James Stadium, we need to have a homefield advantage. At the end of the game this past week, when we really needed it the most, we heard them. To answer your question, we're excited that there's excitement about our football team and we are going to have a big crowd this week. I believe we will.
"If we just continue to take care of business each week, then later on we can talk about some of those things. It has to be tunnel vision for us."
FIRST AND JAMEIS: One of the benchmarks of good quarterback play is what you do in the red zone. Earlier in the season, the Bucs weren't cashing in. But rookie Jameis Winston has turned that around. He has 12 touchdown passes, no interceptions and five rushing TDs inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
"I just think the red zone is a reflection of Jameis overall," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "I think you could just take Jameis in the red zone, Jameis on third down, Jameis on decision-making. We've talked about that every week. He's had a very steady progression of his improvement throughout the year."