After victories in their first two games, the Buccaneers had a nightmare run going into the weekend’s clash with the Rams. Five defeats in six games left them with a 3-5 record, while Tom Brady was out of sorts as he battled his off-field issues, and there was a sense that the season was close to being over.
But this week, NFL bettors checking the latest prices from BestOdds will see that Tampa Bay are still big favorites to win the NFC South, after a dramatic victory over the reigning Super Bowl champions. There’s no doubt that the win was a huge morale boost, but is it too soon to say the Bucs have turned a corner?
Drama in Tampa
The Bucs’ fourth win of the season, by 16-13, was dramatic, but almost didn’t happen. They led early but spent most of the rest of the game trailing the Rams and with 44 seconds on the clock in the final quarter, they were behind 13-9, with the ball on their own 40-yard line and no timeouts. What followed was a masterclass in game management and passing under pressure as the Buccaneers traveled 60 yards to the Rams’ endzone, and tight end Cade Otton delivered the winning touchdown.
The win mattered for so many reasons, the most obvious of which was the achievement of gaining revenge over the Rams. The last time these teams met at Raymond James Stadium, Bucs fans saw their team mount an incredible fourth-quarter comeback from 27-13 down, only to lose the game to a Rams field goal with just four seconds left on the clock.
The Rams, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl, while the agonizingly close nature of the defeat took a long time to get over. It felt in some ways like it was the end of a mini-era. This time, however, it was the Bucs who delivered the late blow, giving us hope that the Brady era might not yet be over.
Even more significant than revenge for last season was the fact that Tom Brady seemed to be back to something like his late-career best, after weeks of speculation, criticism and gossip. His marital difficulties have been well publicized, but the closure of the issue, with the confirmation of his divorce, seem to have coincided with a performance that seemed less weighed down by pressure.
Brady was also able to register a personal milestone. He is the first quarterback to bring up 100,000 passing yards, in his 23rd season. Even in his record-breaking career, that is a number that stands out.
If Brady is back, then that changes everything. It doesn’t fix the problems with the roster, but it does change the calculations for the rest of the season. Brady can’t solve everything but he can make average teams good and good teams great. He has been in every possible situation throughout his career and has usually come out on top. As we cross the halfway point, his ability to pull out wins and to mastermind impossible comebacks, as well as his calmness when the heat is on, will be priceless.
Okay, the Buccaneers ’ schedule is not the absolute easiest in the NFL, but it’s looking a lot easier now and there are plenty of winnable games. Next up is a tough one against the Seahawks and Geno Smith in Munich, but how many times have we seen a highly-rated rising star quarterback hit a brick wall when they take on Brady? Win or lose in Munich, the Bucs will still be strongly placed in the NFC South going into their bye week, and then have a finish that is pretty much downhill.
The Browns, Saints, Panthers and Cardinals are all beatable, and Tampa Bay should be able to win at least one of the games against the 49ers and the Bengals, which look like coin-tosses at the moment. Even if they slip up along the way, they have the insurance of a Week 18 regular season sign-off against the Atlanta Falcons, their strongest divisional rivals.
There is, of course, plenty of work to be done. Even with Brady returning to his best, he still needs more support from his offensive line. The running game has to improve to give opposing defenses something to think about, and doubts about Todd Bowles will continue for a while yet. But after the weekend, we can legitimately say there is evidence that the Bucs have turned a corner.