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After this game, Bucs fans better start saving for the playoffs

John Romano | Yes, Tampa Bay was impressive in a 38-10 win against Green Bay. But the Bucs were also smart and composed.
So what are the odds that either Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers are playing in Raymond James Stadium in February? After the way the Bucs played on Sunday, it's not an outrageous idea.
So what are the odds that either Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers are playing in Raymond James Stadium in February? After the way the Bucs played on Sunday, it's not an outrageous idea. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Oct. 19, 2020
Updated Oct. 19, 2020

TAMPA — This, my friends, is what first place looks like:

The defense is ferocious, the quarterback is composed and the referee doesn’t have a danged thing to do.

This, good people, is what first place sounds like:

The coach is mellow, the music is celebratory and the GIFs on Twitter are all Disney and Dick Vitale.

This, Bucs fans, is what first place can lead to:

Oh, just your wildest dreams.

On days such as this, it’s hard not to see all the best the world has to offer. The Bucs committed no turnovers, they were hit with no penalties and they beat the cheese out of one of the two unbeaten teams in the NFC.

That’s right, Tampa Bay embarrassed the Packers 38-10 in a game everyone wanted to see and, it turned out, nobody could believe. And with the Saints having a bye week, the Bucs moved into first place in the NFC South by a half game.

“As a team, I don’t think we had any penalties, I don’t think we had any sacks, we didn’t have any turnovers; we’re going to be hard to beat,” coach Bruce Arians said. “So, we kind of set a new standard for ourselves in that regard.”

This doesn’t happen every week. Or at least not in Week 6 around here.

In the past eight seasons, the Bucs have been 0-6 (once), 1-5 (once), 2-4 (four times) and 3-3 (twice) after six games. The last time they were 4-2, Raheem Morris was the coach and Josh Freeman was the quarterback.

By the way, they finished 4-12 that year.

So, yes, this felt different Sunday. The Bucs were as clean, efficient and disruptive as any time in the past decade. The defense made Aaron Rodgers look older than the other quarterback, and the offense sat on the lead like it does this routinely.

“I thought they played outstanding,” Arians said. “Just to take that game over in the fourth quarter, and run the ball like that, was just a joy to see.”

Beyond the obvious — beyond the scoreboard and the opponent — there were two things that really bode well from Sunday’s effort.

Related: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski show glimpses of their glorious past

The first is that the Bucs played a sluggish first quarter on both sides of the ball, but didn’t let it snowball. The defense was not forcing the Packers off the field, but at least the Bucs were not giving up big plays. Green Bay was having to move slowly and methodically. While the Bucs offense looked lifeless, there were no turnovers leading to cheap and easy scores.

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The other bright spot is the way the Bucs bounced back from a terrible game against the Bears. Arians made it clear the mistakes and penalties were no longer going to be tolerated, and the players responded with near-perfection.

“When B.A. puts the emphasis on something, you’ve got to get the job done or you won’t be the one doing that job. When he says things like that, he makes himself clear and you just have to be a pro,” linebacker Devin White said.

“Coach said we’ve got to be a penalty-free football team to win games in this league.”

This type of game is a statement to the rest of the league. And it’s a statement in the division. New Orleans might have beaten Tampa Bay in the season opener, but that was back when Tom Brady was still getting adjusted to a new offense. A few weeks ago, Green Bay beat the Saints 37-30 in New Orleans, so this is at least a possibility that the balance of power may be shifting.

More than anything, however, this should be a statement in Tampa Bay’s own locker room.

Related: Then and now: A Week 6 Jameis Winston-Tom Brady comparison

The Bucs know they’re good. They’ve known that since the end of last season when they won four in a row down the stretch. But there’s a huge difference between being cocky and understanding what it takes to win.

What happened on Sunday should be a signal to everyone in a Bucs uniform that their potential is limitless as long as they take care to play smart, focused football.

“If we’re disciplined,” cornerback Jamel Dean said, “stuff like that should happen.”

The Bucs are still a long way from the playoffs, let alone from a February game in Raymond James Stadium, but the way they played on Sunday is an indication that all dreams should be entertained this season.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.