TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers worked themselves into playoff contention following a slow start and feel they’re more than capable of earning a berth for the first time in eight years.
A 25-12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts dropped the Bucs (5-6) below .500 with five games left in the regular season, however coach Lovie Smith stressed Monday there’s no reason to believe his young team can’t hang in the NFC race.
"This time of year … you want to be relevant, you want to be in the mix for what’s happening down the line," the coach said, reflecting on costly mistakes — penalties, defensive breakdowns and a lack of efficiency on offense — that undermined the team against Indianapolis.
"Yesterday was disappointing in a lot of different ways … but we realize where we are," Smith added. "Now it’s about this stretch run. We have a five-game season, playing all NFC teams. … In November, you want to get into position, and now it’s who gets hot in the end."
Smith noted the Bucs went 1-3 the first quarter of the season, 2-2 over the next four games and can finish 3-1 over the "third quarter" by beating NFC South rival Atlanta at home on Sunday.
"There’s no margin for error as we see it," Smith said, adding that going 4-0 over the final four games would enhance the chances of making the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
The Bucs are tied for eighth in the NFC playoff chase, one game behind Seattle (6-5) for the final wild-card spot. The Falcons (6-5) are seventh.
"This is the final stage of our growth, rebirth, whatever you want to call it — to finish on this back stretch," Smith said. "I’m of the school of thought that we are going to be one of those teams that’s going to do this now, right when we need to."
Jameis Winston was sacked five times and intercepted once by the Colts, who have one of the least productive pass rushes in the NFL. Tampa Bay was penalized 12 times for 95 yards, boosting its league-leading penalty total to 109.
Meanwhile, the defense allowed a pair of second-half touchdown passes thrown by Matt Hasselbeck, who led the Colts back from a 12-6 halftime deficit.
Penalties and an inability to adequately protect Winston contributed to the offense virtually abandoning a productive running attack keyed by Doug Martin, who had two carries for 7 yards after gaining 90 on 12 attempts in the opening half.
"We have to move on, though. We have a five-game stretch, no time for doom and gloom," Smith said. "It’s about what we do from here on out."
The Bucs also announced a couple of roster moves Monday, signing linebacker Adarius Glanton to the active roster from Carolina’s practice squad. Safety Kimario McFadden, who made his NFL debut by playing 11 special teams snaps against Dallas three weeks ago, was waived.