TAMPA, Fla. — Coordinator Mike Sullivan knows what you’re thinking. How can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers flip the switch on an offense that short-circuited in four preseason games, receive a charge and rise to life in Week 1?
How can the bad — at times, ugly — receive a facelift and look like a beauty Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where the Bucs will play for more than discovering the 53-man roster?
Sullivan knows what you’re thinking, and he tries to cool the words quick to burn the Bucs’ offense in recent weeks: Be patient. The preseason is past, history, a goner. The mess you saw in August will differ from what will be shown Sunday against the New York Jets and beyond.
“The process that takes place, for us as an organization, from the end of that game (last preseason game) up until we kick the ball off on Sunday is certainly different than the process that we had leading up to the Ravens game or the New England game … or, down the line, Miami and Washington,” Sullivan said.
“If I had my choice, would I have loved for us to have just lit it up and just been outstanding and, ‘OK, first team, 10 plays, touchdown. You guys are out.’ Yeah, I’m a competitor. Who wouldn’t?”
Anything is possible Sunday. Really, does anyone know if Josh Freeman, Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams will zip around the turf at the Meadowlands and score at ease? After how little was revealed in the 1-3 exhibition season, does anyone know if the Bucs will awaken when it counts?
Let’s pump the breaks a little. Usually, preseason results come Week 1 are as useful as a losing lottery ticket. It’s possible the Bucs could have a huge day against a Jets defense minus Darrelle Revis. It’s possible they could end the doubts.
Still, preseason results that drift far from the mean are worth noting. The Bucs finished last in total offense with 224.2 yards per game. They finished last in yards per play with a 3.8 average. They finished No. 27 in scoring offense by averaging 16.5 points per game.
Freeman went 12 of 26 with 101 yards (no touchdowns) and was sacked nine times. Backup quarterback Mike Glennon went 33 of 70 with 397 yards (three touchdowns, three interceptions) and was sacked four times.
“Sometimes, you read that stuff,” Bucs offensive tackle Demar Dotson said of the criticism. “It doesn’t get discouraging, because fans don’t really know what’s going on. So it’s crazy sometimes how fans are that turn on you in a second. But hey, that’s life.”
I asked Dotson about the offense’s potential, with weapons such as Freeman, Martin, Jackson and Williams.
“All those guys are going to have a tremendous year,” Dotson said. “As long as we do our job up front, Doug will run well, Vince will catch balls, Mike will catch balls, Josh is going to look good. But in order for any of that to happen, we up front have to do our job. That’s what we’ve got to focus on, first and foremost. We get little attention, but we don’t need attention. We just want to make sure these guys look good, and we can win football games.”
That lack of alarm is shared in the Bucs’ locker room. The response is appropriate. There would be more reason to worry if Dotson, Sullivan or anyone else had said, “The preseason is indicative of where we’re headed. We have issues this year. Look out.”
Instead, calmer heads have prevailed. Let’s see how the Bucs look this month before turning up the heat.
Freeman: “In the preseason, you’re mixing in different guys. You’re trying different things. You’re not really game-planning nearly to the extent that you do in the regular season. From what I’ve taken from my preseason experience, it doesn’t really dictate whether or not you’re going to be great or whether or not you’re going to lose.”
Jackson: “It’s preseason. Again, we definitely went out there and tried to execute some of the things that we implemented. But again, we’re going to be very vanilla in the preseason and not show our hand.”
Running back Mike James: “With anything, it’s tough to get rolling at times. We’re trying to get in season form. Things come. Sometimes, it takes a little longer than usual. The preseason was a time to get prepared and get ready for the season, and we used it to the best of our abilities.”
So the Bucs know what you’re thinking: Can the offense turn it around? Can it look a whole lot better than what has been shown so far?