Looking for a word to describe the Bucs? Try resilient

Coach Todd Bowles’ team had four comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime this season and are battle tested despite a losing record.
Published Jan. 9|Updated Jan. 10

TAMPA — The Bucs have won games late, like the 1-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to rookie Cade Otton with nine seconds remaining to beat the Rams.

They have won games very late, like the 40-yard field goal by Ryan Succop in overtime at Arizona.

They have won games coming from behind, like they did in erasing an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Carolina and capture the NFC South.

The Bucs didn’t win as many games as they lost and still secured the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Coach Todd Bowles would like to think that is foreshadowing more than foreboding, but he knows his team’s biggest strength won’t be found in numbers entering the wild-card game against the Cowboys.

“Our guys are resilient,” Bowles said Monday. “They didn’t blink, you know? We didn’t blink. The guys didn’t blink. They hung together, they stayed together. They knew what they had to do. We kind of dug ourselves out. ...

“We stay in every game. Even though it might not be clean all the way, we find a way to be in it at the end and we just have to make plays at the end of the ballgame. We’re confident and we understand that so we don’t seem like we’re out of any ballgame.”

Bucs tight end Cade Otton scores on a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in a Nov. 6 win over the Rams.
Bucs tight end Cade Otton scores on a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in a Nov. 6 win over the Rams. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Brady engineered four comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime this season, beating the Rams, Saints, Cardinals and Panthers long after it appeared his team had a chance.

The Bucs averaged only 76.9 yards rushing per game, heaping most of the offense on the right arm of their 45-year-old quarterback.

Brady responded by leading the NFL in passing attempts (733) and completions (490), resetting his league record from a year ago. Bowles said his offense is no longer seeking offensive balance, just points on the scoreboard.

“You get to the playoffs, you try to win any way possible,” he said. “If we can recover 10 fumbles and score that way, so be it. If we have to throw it, so be it. If we have to run it, so be it. You don’t worry about balance so much in the playoffs. People try to take certain things away, so you take what they give you and try to make it work that way.”

The Bucs (8-9) are very familiar with the Cowboys (12-5), having beaten them 31-29 in the season opener in 2021 at Raymond James Stadium and 19-3 at AT&T Stadium in 2022.

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“We’ve changed,” Bowles said. “We’re a different team. I can’t speak for them yet. I haven’t dove into the film to watch them. But they’re talented. You watch some highlights here and there. They’ve got talent all over the field.

“From our standpoint, we’re mentally tougher. We’re into the grind of the season, so to speak, and everybody kind of knows their roles that’s kind of panned out since Week 1. We’ll watch some tape and we’ll get to work on them.”

The Bucs and Cowboys will play next Monday night and the extra day of rest could come in handy. Center Robert Hainsey left Sunday’s loss at Atlanta in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and Bowles offered no update on his condition.

Bowles also said nothing has changed about the status of center Ryan Jensen, who sustained a significant knee injury the second day of training camp in July and is in the middle of his 21-day workout window; it closes Jan. 18.

“We’d love to see him out there but we’ll see,” Bowles said.

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady looks to pass during the season opener against the Cowboys.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady looks to pass during the season opener against the Cowboys. [ MATT PATTERSON | AP ]

The Cowboys have struggled of late. Quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown at least one interception in seven straight games and 11 overall during that stretch.

Dallas’ defense, meanwhile, has allowed an average of 28.25 points per game over the past four contests, including yielding 503 total yards in a loss to the Jaguars.

“They have a swarming defense. We know that,” Bowles said. “They have ball hawks in the secondary. They can get to the passer as well. Micah (Parsons) is not the only one. Offensively, they’re healthier on the offensive line. They can run the ball very well. Obviously, they’ve got talent on the outside, in the backfield and a great quarterback. Everything concerns you when you play the Cowboys. You’ve got to play a complete game.”

The Bucs are a three-point underdog at home. But even that small slight could work in their favor.

“You really can’t worry about people counting you out,” Bowles said. “When you lose games, they’re going to talk bad about you. When you win, they’re going to talk good about you. That’s part of it. Different guys get motivated over different things so whatever can make you play on Sunday, that’s what you try to do and play on Sunday.

“We know we’ve been in the foxhole since we got here to training camp, and we’re going to continue to stay in that foxhole and we’re going to fight our way out of it.”

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