TAMPA — If the Bucs win their 10th game today by beating the Raiders but don't reach the playoffs, is it a successful season?
First, a little perspective: Only six times in the franchise's previous 32 seasons have the Bucs reached double-digit victories.
And yet, after matching their best 12-game start with a 9-3 record this year, not earning a spot in the postseason has the feeling of … a choke and a collapse.
Both perspectives are probably accurate.
In a bottom-line business such as pro football, success is measured in championships. Only one team finishes the year with a win.
What makes a successful season?
"It's got to be winning Super Bowls," coach Jon Gruden said. "That's the only thing that qualifies true success. Making the playoffs … I've been there, been eliminated, been yelled out, cussed out the next six months before training camp. There are no complimentary bowl games for all of us to go to and maybe enjoy the offseason a little bit more.
"As a coach, you really try not to worry about all of that. … You've got to keep everything into a true perspective, and not everybody will agree with you.
"Some say we've overachieved as a football team. Some say, 'You've choked down the stretch; it's a colossal collapse.' But we're 9-6, and if you look around the league, it's a good season. But at the same time, as long as I'm in this position, winning championships and competing for championships is successful. And if you're not there, you have to either change the coach or add some more pieces to your puzzle. That's this business."
Of course, Gruden isn't going anywhere. Not next season, anyway. He already has begun hiring his coaching staff by naming Raheem Morris the defensive coordinator for 2009.
But it's fair to ask that if Tony Dungy can be fired for not getting the Bucs past the first round of the playoffs in 2001 — he reached the postseason four times in six years — can Gruden be held accountable for not reaching the postseason four times in the past six years and not winning once since 2002?
Linebacker Derrick Brooks says it's fair for fans to say the Bucs collapsed if they don't reach the playoffs today. Tampa Bay needs a win over Oakland and a loss by Dallas at Philadelphia to claim the final wild card in the NFC.
"Because of where we're at, I think those are warranted," Brooks said. "Now if we were 1-and-whatever and won nine or 10 in a row, then it's a great season. They all just fell one short. But I said it earlier, because of this franchise's history, how many times have we won 10 games? So yeah, it will be a success. But people will say that because of where we were. But you ask that same person the same question in August, they would've taken 10 wins."
Brooks has suffered through seasons of disappointment before. One year after reaching the NFC Championship Game, the 2000 team went 10-6 but lost in the first round of the playoffs. This would be a different kind of disappointment, he said.
"Of course, but again, I firmly believe in we get what we deserve," Brooks said. "We had an opportunity and didn't take advantage of it. Whoever you're talking to, it's their perspective as to what you're going to get."