TAMPA – Deep breaths, folks. Deep breaths.
It is one of those weeks.
A week to feel good about the Bucs, or at least hopeful.
We had a couple of those weeks to start last season after Ryan Fitzpatrick and the 2018 Bucs rocketed to 2-0 and were briefly the talk of professional football. Remember that dream sequence, kids?
You know how that ended.
Keep it in mind. Because if you deny your brain enough oxygen, your mind, along with these 1-1 Bucs, will play tricks on you.
Yes, you’re busy learning the words to The Ballad of Shaq Barrett and wondering where the NFC South championship banner should go and what day Jameis Winston gets knighted when the Bucs are in England.
Yes, things have broken very well to begin the season for Bruce Arians and the lads. Speaking of broken, Winston might be the only living NFL starting quarterback by Week 5. You can almost see 8-8 from here, or even better. And you’re not necessarily seeing things.
No Drew Brees, at least for the game in New Orleans. No Andrew Luck or Nick Foles to worry about. Throw in the fact that Cam Newton, who has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, is both hurt and awful and a loss in London isn’t a given.
Deep breaths, folks. Deep breaths.
First up is the Giants this Sunday, without Eli Manning, who has bedeviled the Bucs over the years and appears to be through. The Bucs get a rookie QB, Daniel Jones, and the league’s second-worst defense, assuming the very worst Dolphins have not been kicked out of the NFL.
Winston and the Bucs should go up and down the field and, barring Winston mistakes, should easily outscore Saquon Barkley and the Giants.
At this point, we’re not even sure a trip to Los Angeles to play the defending NFC champion Rams is a sure loss. Could the Bucs be 3-3 when they get back from London? Or will it be 4-2? The Bucs are on fire. Enjoy it while you can, Tampa Bay. If, by chance, Bucs players are among the early celebrants, Arians has an idea about party ideas.
“If there is, I’m going to put a match to it,” he said.
You can’t beat a voice of reason.
The Bucs have one ragged loss and one ragged win. That’s it. They should have won their opener but lost. They should have lost at Carolina but won. If Vernon Hargreaves doesn’t force Christian McCaffrey out of bounds with like a foot to spare, the Bucs are 0-2, no happy faces.
Granted, that’s the difference from week to week for average to below-average NFL teams, life on the razor’s edge. Give Arians and the Bucs credit. They are dancing that fine line.
Forget that Winston, who starred in Carolina, isn’t out of the woods yet. And the passing game, which was rousing last season, has yet to come around. Forget that outside of NFC defensive player of the week Barrett the Bucs have zero sacks.
Yes, the optics of competition have changed. Games against Teddy Bridgewater, Jacoby Brissett and Gardner Minshew seem a lot more winnable than ones against Brees, Luck and Foles.
On the other hand, the Buc specialize is losing when they should win, and always will until they prove different. Remember when Derek Anderson used to beat the Bucs as Newton’s back-up? Thursday night, Minshew and Jacksonville beat Tennessee.
Beware of Daniel Jones.
Arians and his staff are giving the Bucs a chance through two weeks. The defense is fundamentally sound — finally — under Todd Bowles, though the better offenses will eventually exploit the Bucs’ lesser talent level. But people seem to be in the right place at last. That’s a good start.
But peel the onion a little and you see what the first two weeks really tell us, that Winston has to play very well and the defense has to make plays at just the right time to get this team across the finish line. Anything less and it’s the rocket sled to oblivion.
We’re not talking about playoffs, no matter how many other QBs go down. We’re talking respectability, and that will be a battle every week. At least the Bucs have a coach who can keep them from getting too high or too low.
“That’s the whole thing, is learning how to win close games,” Arians said. “You harp on it. We lost the fourth quarter against San Francisco and won the fourth quarter against Carolina. You’ve just got to keep it close and make the plays to win the game at the end. Now that we’ve done one, it should become easier.”
Things appear to be breaking right so far.
Deep breaths, folks. Deep breaths.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly