TAMPA, Fla. — If you were to step into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers locker room, it would say in big, bold letters on the whiteboard:
IT'S A WHOLE NEW SEASON
Veteran linebacker Lavonte David wrote that down. Him and Mike Evans have been here a long time, only playing in six total playoff games. Even though the 8-9 record was not what they wanted, they are not going to apologize for it and they are not going to take this playoff opportunity for granted.
"It’s hard to get here," David said. "This season was rough – it was a battle to get here. We’re here now. Myself, I love to be in this moment. Last year, I almost didn’t play in this situation [because of injury]. Obviously, I’m happy to be here and enthused to be able to be here and get this thing going.”
Evans said, "It’s just a win or go home mentality and that brings out the best in players and in teams. I like being in those types of games."
Tampa Bay are underdogs at home Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys. No one in that locker room is thinking about a loss, but many at home are wondering if this is the last time we will see Tom Brady in a Bucs uniform.
"I haven't thought about it, but I'm happy and privileged that I got the opportunity to play with him," Evans said, who surpassed 1,000 receiving yards again this season.
While the focus is on Brady, David could be gone next season as well. He is about to be a free agent and just put up 124 tackles during his 11th season with the team.
"I just want to put my best foot forward and show everybody that I still belong."
Entering this Cowboys contest, the focus offensively will be on Micah Parsons. The electric pass-rusher logged 13.5 sacks this season and even when he isn't putting up numbers in the box score, he's frazzling the quarterback in a myriad of ways.
"You just cut the tape on and ‘11’ [Parsons] shows up everywhere – he’s a hell of a football player," Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. "The motor that he has – he’s a great football player, really one of the great football players in this league. We’ll have that challenge."
Defensively, besides linebacker Shaq Barrett, the Bucs are optimistic they will have all their starters out there. The growing sentiment around team officials and players is that Tampa Bay will be the healthiest they've been since stepping onto the field in Week 1 against Dallas. We caught a glimpse of this against Carolina two weeks ago, but even guys like Carlton Davis and Carl Nassib were still not suiting up.
Meanwhile, ever since Dallas lost Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown in the secondary, that unit has been susceptible to the big play. Evans should have a big opportunity to get going on Monday.
The Cowboys have not won a road playoff game since 1992. The pressure is squarely on them coming to Tampa while the Bucs are playing with house money. This is a team featuring a lot of Super Bowl winners who have had a flair for the dramatic all year.
They are built for this moment.
"If you’ve got a lot of older guys, the main thing is, just follow their lead," passing game coordinator Larry Foote said. "We set the tone – the veterans on this team, they set the tone and if you’re smart, you’re going to pay attention and follow them."