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Bucs try to shake off early season woes

 
Bucs guard Logan Mankins (No. 70) was part of nine consecutive winning seasons with the Patriots including two Super Bowl trips.
Bucs guard Logan Mankins (No. 70) was part of nine consecutive winning seasons with the Patriots including two Super Bowl trips.
Published Oct. 12, 2014

TAMPA — Losing is not the end of the world. It's not even the end of the NFL season.

These are the sort of things the Buccaneers have to remind themselves of after a 1-4 start under new coach Lovie Smith. Since Oct. 16, 2011, the Bucs have lost 35 of 47, or roughly three of every four. For their long-suffering fans, most of the time it's Deja P.U.

Perhaps that's why after practice Friday, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy gathered team captains and a few core players for a five-minute meeting to tell them it's time to mop up the mistakes and play a clean game today against the Baltimore Ravens.

A week ago, the Bucs had 15 penalties and blew an 11-point lead to the Saints and lost in overtime.

Al McGuire, the late Marquette basketball coach, used to say winning was overrated. "The only time it's really important is in surgery and war," he said.

Perhaps that's true and nobody has ordered library silence in the locker room to reflect on all the losses.

"You see me smiling, right? This is the NFL," McCoy said. "It's short-lived and life will go on after football. But while you're here, you've got to enjoy it regardless of what you're going through. You've got to enjoy the process. We're not far off."

Guard Logan Mankins averaged more than 12 wins in nine seasons with New England. So what did all those winning teams have in common — besides Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?

"A group of guys coming together as one," Mankins said. "All the teams that I was on that were successful, they seemed to be like family. We all pulled for each other. We worked hard. That's what it comes down to, working hard, playing smart and trusting the guys next to you. … We're getting there."

Defensive end Michael Johnson saw his Cincinnati Bengals teams reach the playoffs the past three seasons before he signed with the Bucs as a free agent in March. He said the difference between those teams and this one is the belief they can win.

"They believe. It's as simple as that," Johnson said. "You believe in the guy beside you. Believe that he's going to do his job and believe you're going to do yours and just go out there and play for each other. We're getting that.

"We let one slip away last week and it hurts. It hurt bad. But you've got to remember that and know what went wrong and make the corrections."

In fact, Mankins said he got a laugh out of the pundits predicting the Patriots' reign was over after their blowout 41-14 loss to the Chiefs Sept. 29. Brady was called washed up. The team responded by beating the Bengals, 43-17.

"I chuckled at that," Mankins said. "There's too many good coaches and too many good players up there for them to just fall off the map."

According to Mankins, the tone setters have to come from within the locker room.

"Oh yeah, it's your leaders," Mankins said. "You see what they do. If a young guy comes in and sees an older guy who just loafs around, who just does enough to get by, he thinks that's the way you do it. If he sees the older guy who works hard, practices his techniques and studies extra, then he thinks that's the way to do it. Once everyone buys into that, you've got a special group of guys."

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The Bucs are healing — McCoy's broken left hand is healing, middle linebacker Mason Foster will return today after missing three weeks with a dislocated shoulder and receiver Mike Evans appears to be a go.

Smith has held his players accountable for their mistakes again this week.

"I think Lovie did a good job of that on Tuesday," Mankins said. "We went over the penalties and he was like, 'This can't happen. You put yourself in that position and they called it.' "

But Smith's glass is always half full.

"I know what our record says. Before those wins come, you have to take care of some other things," Smith said. "I see progress. We're getting healthier and this is probably as close to the team we started the season off with as we've had in awhile. But we're playing better ball in so many areas. … I just feel like this is as close as we've been."

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.