Why the Bucs will beat the Packers

BY Peter Schrager • November 16, 2011

Adam, it’d be disingenuous of me to tell you that I think the Buccaneers, losers of three straight games with a defense that’s truly sputtering out of control, are going to strut into Lambeau Field and beat the Super Bowl champion Packers this weekend.

Though we go at it each week with these Rivalry Rants, we’re also friends. And brother, friends don’t look each other in the eyes and spit lies.

But, it also would have been disingenuous of me had I told you the Seahawks were going to beat the Ravens or that the John Skelton-led Cardinals were going to take down the Eagles last week. If we’ve learned anything this season, it’s that we — the self-anointed “experts” — really don’t know jack. We don’t have the book that helped Biff bet on sports in “Back to the Future 2” and we don’t have it all figured out. Furthermore, we don’t know what motivates a team and makes them click.

Which leads me to the Buccaneers. My love affair with this team started two years ago when they turned to rookie quarterback Josh Freeman late in the season and he led them to a comeback win — wearing the creamsicle unis — over these very Packers. The following season, they fielded the youngest team in the league, I dubbed them “The Baby Bucs”, and they went on to go 10-6, falling just one win short of a playoff berth. Freeman was a star, Raheem Morris was being praised as the best young coach in football and GM Mark Dominik was rewarded with a large multi-year extension.

Naturally, the media bandwagon filled up this preseason with an overflowing love fest. The NFC South was said to be a three-team race this year — the steady Saints, primed Falcons and the up-and-coming Baby Buccanneers. But something happened on the way to the playoffs: The Bucs faltered. Terribly.

Last year, they were an incredibly fun, young team that didn’t know any better than to play their hardest and ups

et premier teams one week after another. They were playing with house money and were a joy to root for.This year? They’re not sneaking up on anybody, and their defense — the pride of the team a season ago — is among the league’s worst. Raheem Morris’s D gave up 453 yards to the New Orleans Saints two weeks ago and 420 yards to the Texans Sunday. The Bucs are now allowing 6.39 yards per play this season. In the past 20 years, the only NFL defense that gave up more yards per play was the 2008 Lions at 6.41. Umm, and as you may recall, Detroit went 0-16 that year.

So, what now? With the playoffs looking like a pipe dream at this point, what’s left for the young Bucs to play for? Why would they even show up on Sunday?

That’s where you and I — writers who absolutely love and cherish this game, but have never played it on the college or professional level — have zero expertise. With Raheem Morris’s name being mentioned with the term “hot seat” for the first time in his three-year tenure in Tampa and with the local press all on board with the notion that this team has regressed, some pride might kick in. This won’t be a “Win one for the Gipper” game and I assure you Raheem Morris won’t be delivering any such speeches in the locker room before kickoff, but there comes a point in a season where a disappointing team needs to pull itself up and play for something. Whether it’s their own self-respect, their coach’s job security, or their own livelihood in the sport — something has to click.

It didn’t click in London, where it took the Bucs three quarters to even realize they were playing a football game that counted. It didn’t click in New Orleans, where the defense forgot to show up. And it certainly didn’t click last weekend, where the Texans connected on an 80-yard score on the first drive and never turned back.

But maybe it clicks in Lambeau. Maybe. After all, this is the same team they beat way back in 2009, when my love affair with the Baby Bucs originally began.

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