Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) celebrates with wide receiver coach P.J. Fleck after throwing a touchdown pass during overtime against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Nov. 18. The Bucs defeated the Panthers 27-21 in overtime. (Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE)
The Bucs have tricked themselves into believing the oldest of all locker room adages: All games are created equal.
It's simply not true.
By definition, division games are much more critical to team success and, ultimately, playoff positioning. Win those six key matchups each year and your chances of having a winning record (not to mention upping the chances of you catapulting your way into the postseason) go sky high!
BUT, the Bucs fail to believe the truth. The facts are irrelevant to them. They, again, continue to preach in clichés. It's a weekly parade of 'one game at a time', 'one game season', 'it's Insert Team Name Here Week', or 'the next game is the most important game'.
Actually, that last one IS true this week. Not because it happens to be the next one on the schedule, but because of who will be here at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
The 9-1 Atlanta Falcons will be in town anxious to put the Bucs back in their place. Atlanta knows it needs to win this game. Lose it and the Bucs are right on their heels in the NFC South.
Tampa Bay would be 7-4. Atlanta would be 9-2.
The margin of error would become razor-thin for the Falcons who still have to face the Bucs head-to-head once more this year. In the NFL, two game leads evaporate faster than spilled summer Slurpees on Dale Mabry concrete.
That means that this week is VERY important for the Bucs. Just like a loss could start the twine to unravel in Atlanta, a loss for Tampa Bay would virtually eliminate any chance of someone besides the Falcons from winning the division. That would also mean the Bucs would have to sneak into the playoffs via one of the two NFC wild card slots.
Right now, that would be pretty tough, with a half dozen teams or so within punting distance of that final spot.
But despite ALL OF THAT obvious, black and white evidence, the Bucs players and coaches continue to tell us that this game carries the same weight as the rest of them.
This game is just like the 38-10 win over Kansas City. It's a mirror image of the kick-in-the-gut loss to the Redskins on a walk-off field goal. It's basically the same as beating the Vikings on the road on a Thursday night.
"Your next opponent is always the toughest regardless of who it is, so I don't think any certain division game is different," lied Bucs defensive end Gerald McCoy today.
"We are really just trying to take it one game at a time," fibs receiver Mike Williams, when asked if his team can make a statement with a win over a 9-1 divisional foe. "Right now it's Falcons week. We are trying to go get another win. Go out and get another win. Business as usual."
Tisk, tisk. Come on, fellas! You know this game is big. It's HUGE. It's not just another game.
If it is business as usual, maybe that's a good thing. I guess this fib-fest is working for the Bucs who, by the way, have fed us those exact same lines of bull-oney every week this season.
The Bucs have won four games in a row and their last two losses were to the Saints on a crazy, wild finish where Williams caught the tying TD but actually stepped out of bounds before touching the ball with no time left, and that aforementioned kick-in-the-gut loss to the Redskins on that unlucky walk-off field goal.
So, after starting the year 1-3, Tampa Bay has gone 4-2 with those pair of losses coming by a combined nine points.
Maybe this IS just another game.