I saw the quotes scroll across my Twitter timeline on Sunday and couldn’t believe them. Skepticism washed over me as I read the words of Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Davin Joseph, as reported by Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune.
"Guys trust in (Greg Schiano), guys believe in him," Joseph said, per Cummings. "For the first time, I can say it feels like we’re a family now."
I know, winning solves everything, even if the Bucs’ victories have come over a reeling Miami Dolphins team and a shell of the team that was formerly the NFC-favorite Atlanta Falcons.
Yet, I couldn’t help but feel like those quotes, along with what I’d heard from some folks down in Tampa on my own, were as genuine than they appeared. This Buccaneers season, which has been a MRSA-laden disaster at times, suddenly has the feeling it’s pivoting toward something much more promising than it once seemed.
I spoke to one of the pillars of the locker room after the Bucs’ 41-28 victory over Atlanta to get his take. And in his words and his tone, Gerald McCoy confirmed it’s not as bad at One Buc Place as it’s made out to be.
"We have a good team, man, and we have a great head coach," McCoy told FOX Sports by phone. "A great head coach."
I’m sorry, Gerald, it’s hard to hear you in that victorious locker room. It sounded as if you were supporting the man you reportedly hate.
"You know, the outside world is going to say what they want but that’s why we don’t listen to what everybody on the outside is saying. It’s just what goes on inside those four walls when we get in the meeting room," McCoy said. "We don’t quit, man. We’re the best competitors in the world at what we do. That’s why they call us professionals. We just never stop. As I said all year, we were going to keep fighting until we got that feeling that we wanted — and that’s to win when the clock ticks to zero."
I’m laying it on pretty thick here for effect. I’ve reported plenty of things that haven’t made Schiano or the organization look very good. I mentioned in early September that Darrelle Revis wasn’t loving life under Schiano (after playing for his polar opposite in the player-friendly Rex Ryan), I gave Lawrence Tynes a chance to speak out against the Bucs’ treatment of him after he contracted a staph infection. I’ve mentioned that players have felt Schiano needs to chill out.
But the way this team has responded lately, the way it’s shaken off injuries to its top two running backs and Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, the way it put a scare into the Seattle Seahawks and then won its first two games and the way the players are talking about their "great" head coach had me wondering whether there’s a better understanding being reached between Schiano and his players.
This isn’t about whether the Bucs are going to win their final six games and make a push for the postseason or something silly like that. This is about whether Schiano, who has about $9 million left on his contract through the 2016 season, can possibly save his job.
Sources say Schiano hasn’t been given any indication one way or another to this point whether he’ll continue as Tampa’s coach beyond this season. That’s likely because he’s coaching for his job over the second half of the season. Two games into that stretch, it’s time to wonder whether the guy many had getting fired or running back into the college ranks is buying himself some more time and credibility in his locker room.
So I asked McCoy to be dead honest: Is that locker room still behind Schiano?
"Of course. Of course we are," he said, adding that the way the team responded on a short week was proof. "Coach Schiano issued a challenge to us today as a team: ‘Are we going to have a Monday Night Football hangover or come out and keep the momentum and keep going?’ We did that today."
They’ll have to keep it going to save Schiano, for sure, and one peek at their schedule shows it’s about to get real (away games against the Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, along with a home meeting with the San Francisco 49ers left to go). But with a newfound faith in their coach and a young quarterback in Mike Glennon who keeps getting better, the Bucs are shaping up to be quite the interesting storyline — even if it won’t end with a trip to the postseason.
NFLPA gets in on Martin-Incognito
I reported Friday on "FOX Sports Live" that the NFL Players Association was denied access to the meeting between Jonathan Martin and Ted Wells by Martin’s attorney David Cornwell, who confirmed as much in a statement released to several media when he stated he was worried Martin would be affected if there were too many people in the room.
Cornwell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith aren’t the best of buds, so don’t assume he was worried about the fire codes or anything, OK?
This week, though, the NFLPA will be part of the investigation, per a source. The union has asked Wells and the NFL for permission to sit in on all interviews with players. Wells and the league have obliged. It’s the latest example of the league and the union working well together in this matter. After the lockout and the New Orleans Saints’ bounty case, that’s a welcome break from the contentious dealings the sides have had in recent weeks.
However, we’ll see how well the sides get along when the union asks to speak to coaches and executives as part of its own investigation into the matter. That’s the plan, according to a source.
Five quick takes
1.) Sources say Percy Harvin didn’t have many serious suitors when it became clear he was on the trading block in the offseason. Plenty of teams would have liked to have him, just not at a hefty price tag and at the expense of big-time compensation. In fact, had the Seahawks balked, Harvin would have been in a tough spot. A source said the Carolina Panthers showed mild interest but weren’t willing to pay what Seattle offered both to the Minnesota Vikings and to Harvin.
So how did Harvin’s camp get the Seahawks to give up a first-round pick and $11 million per year? Well, the pitch was he was the guy who brings that dimension standing between your otherwise excellent team and the Super Bowl. He’s a dynamic returner, a slot guy and even a rushing threat. And when he’s happy and healthy, all the better.
Well, there was Harvin being nearly all of that on Sunday in limited action during a 41-20 victory over his former team on Sunday. It’s scary to think the Seahawks got to 9-1 without Harvin and with franchise left tackle Russell Okung on the shelf for eight weeks. (Okung also returned to action Sunday.) Harvin’s 58-yard kick return to set up a touchdown showed his hip is just fine — and that he’s indeed that dimension to make a great team even better.
2.) I was laughing at how coincidental it was that there was so much talk about Nick Foles’ lack of athleticism last week, just days before he had 47 yards rushing. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback is not Bambi, but he’s more athletic than it seems. And if you ignore him completely, as the Washington Redskins’ defense did on one run Sunday, he’s fast enough to gain yardage in the open field. Foles’ putting that on film will at least show future opponents they have to respect his legs. And anytime Chip Kelly can occupy a defender, that’s a very good thing.
Now, one qualm regarding Foles’ running, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this was addressed by the Eagles, is his ability to slide. Check that — his inability to slide, which was evident at times Sunday. Foles has a big frame (6-foot-6, 243 pounds), so it’s tough for him to get down gracefully. That said, he’ll have to figure out a way to do so because he already has one concussion and doesn’t want to see how quickly the red flags will go up if he gets one or a few more. He need only talk to Michael Vick about that. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles look for ways to work with Foles on getting down safely when he runs.
3.) Back to the Bucs for a second: Glennon is a guy who has been criticized in the past for his footwork. I must say, he’s gotten much, much better in that department. He’s sliding in the pocket and staying balanced to deliver throws downfield. Glennon was 20 for 23 for 231 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, and those numbers are a testament to good footwork and keeping his eyes downfield. Credit goes to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, who was Eli Manning’s quarterbacks coach in 2011 when Manning had his best year with his feet in the pocket.
"He’s starting to show he understands the game more, keeping his poise and making plays, getting those reads right and doing what he needs to do, running to get the first down when he needs to," McCoy told me. "Just everything he’s doing, from the throws he’s making to the checks he’s making, calling out the blitzes and everything."
4.) The AFC playoff picture is as muddled as it gets when it comes to that second wild-card spot. The impossible-to-figure-out New York Jets and the Dolphins are tied for that spot with 5-5 records. Behind them are six teams with 4-6 records, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom many declared dead a few weeks ago. Give coach Mike Tomlin credit for getting his team focused after a disappointing loss to the New England Patriots two weeks ago. That was a loss that could’ve easily sent this team off the rails. Tomlin would have none of that, though. This is still an imperfect team with injury and offensive-line issues, but I predicted about a month ago they weren’t going away and they haven’t.
5.) I had a Twitter follower question my criticism of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant after his sideline rant in Detroit a few weeks ago. (I stand by that criticism, by the way, as I still say there’s a way to conduct oneself on the sideline and that wasn’t it.) That same follower checked in on Sunday after the Houston Texans’ Andre Johnson got into an argument with Matt Schaub on the sideline. While I wouldn’t compare the sideline antics of Bryant and Johnson, I’d say leaving the field before the end of the game, as Johnson did, was the greater sin. You don’t leave the sideline early. You just don’t. No matter how frustrated you are or how disappointing your team’s season is. Johnson, who suggested afterward he’d like out of Houston but is contractually obligated to stay, should apologize to Schaub and the rest of the team. We’ll see how he handles it.
10 Even quicker takes
• Matt McGloin: Our Jay Glazer said don’t be surprised if McGloin remains the Oakland Raiders’ starter even when Terrelle Pryor is healthy. McGloin’s three touchdown passes against Houston caught the team’s eye.
• Martellus Bennett: The image of the Chicago Bears tight end stomping in celebration with mud all over his left arm following a 43-yard catch in overtime, that’s football.
• Geno Smith: Since his outstanding performance in a comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5, he’s thrown eight interceptions and one touchdown. This offseason could be very interesting for the Jets when it comes to their quarterback decisions.
• Mike Shanahan: The questions about his future are starting to pop up. One has to figure he gets one more year, no?
• Kansas City Chiefs: The there-are-no-moral-victories crowd was out in full force last night, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: There are moral victories. Expect the Chiefs to play much better against Denver in two weeks.
• Dolphins: Credit them for getting a victory in the midst of all the noise, especially without center Mike Pouncey. That’s three starting offensive linemen the Dolphins are now without. They’re still a talented team that’s hanging in there.
• Josh Freeman: Time for him to start again, and this time for more than one game. The Vikings have to see what they have in him.
• Bobby Rainey: This guy was cut by the Browns. How? Why? He had 163 yards and two touchdowns for the Bucs on Sunday.
• Jason Pierre-Paul: That was the old JPP on that pick-six of Scott Tolzien. He’s been slow returning to form following offseason back surgery, but there he was again. And one look at his Twitter timeline following the game shows how giddy he was to feel whole again.
• Brandon Pettigrew: The Detroit Lions tight end is very fortunate his season isn’t over, given the way his knee twisted while getting tackled early in Sunday’s game.