The Bucs are desperate to get back in the win column Sunday against the Panthers, and to get back to the winning ways they had early in the season. Despite going from 3-1 to 4-7, Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes have not fully evaporated just yet. But a loss to a 1-10 Panthers team in shambles would all but write them off from being able to right the ship.
As things stand before their next game, what are their chances of making the playoffs? To get there, what has to change?
Bucs Playoff Chances Getting Lower By The Week
In a weak NFC South, starting 3-1 had the Bucs and their fans bullish about this season and they were well on their way to three-peating as division champions and proving their many doubters wrong. Yeah, about that.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell recently dived into the NFC playoff picture (subscription required), and the Bucs’ current playoff odds have sunk to 22.5% on making the playoffs and just 6.1% on being a wild-card team. With the Falcons at 5-6, it really comes down to the Bucs winning the next two games to have any shot at regaining what they probably felt was rightfully theirs at the beginning of the season.
In Barnwell’s article, he mentioned that Tampa Bay has lost by just 4.4 points over their recent skid, and if they capitalized on two of their chances things would look a lot different.
If the Bucs would have won their Week 7 contest against the Falcons and taken advantage of Desmond Ridder fumbling the football three times, that’s one win against their biggest division threat. More and more that game looks like a blown chance to have the NFC South run through Tampa Bay and has served as the beginning of the snowball effect of losing that has carried on for roughly half of the season.
Two weeks later, the Bucs’ offense came alive and put up 37 points, including a late-game score from Cade Otton on a pass by Baker Mayfield. All signs pointed to the team coming out of Houston with an impressive win.
That was until rookie sensation C.J. Stroud drove the Texans down the field to score the game-winning touchdown in the last seconds. If those two game outcomes went the other way, Tampa Bay goes into Sunday at 6-5 – and head coach Todd Bowles would have been able to let out a few more victory “YEAH’s!”
Instead, the team returns to Raymond James Stadium with little to no momentum on their side. How that begins to change starts with Bowles and the players being accountable for the recent stretch of losing Buccaneers football.
Bucs Will Only Find The Win Column With More Accountability
How the Bucs get back in the win column with more regularity circles back to Bowles and the players and the element of accountability. This was something Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds and Matt Matera pointed to on Wednesday’s podcast referring to Bowles’ comments that day and both of them were spot-on on what the team has been missing.
Here is Todd Bowles’ full statement when asked about if his team has gotten complacent. “There’s no complacency, there’s just youth,” Bowles said. “It’s accountability. You’ve got to bring one along. Everybody is playing hard, but until they start being accountable for each other – and I’ve told them this – we won’t turn this corner until they start being accountable for each other on the field.”
There is a lot of youth along the roster, and many of them have had to learn on the fly. It’s worked out for some guys, such as Calijah Kancey, who just won NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month. Otherwise, it’s been a lot of late-round picks trying to find footing on a team with playoff aspirations.
As Barnwell pointed out in his article, the Bucs have had nine rookies play at least 150 snaps this season, tied for most in the league. That includes much of their draft class, including Day 3 picks SirVocea Dennis, Payne Durham, Josh Hayes, and Trey Palmer. That also extends to the undrafted Christian Izien and Markees Watts.
With that, it means that the leaders on the roster need to not only fill the mentor role but do more to hold everyone accountable for their actions and performances. Baker Mayfield has been the most vocal about calling out his teammates. While he is supposed to be one of the leaders as the quarterback, players who have been within the building longer and have experienced playoff football have to step up and lead with their playoff hopes this season hanging in the balance.
If the Bucs fail to make the playoffs this year in what has again been the weakest division in the NFL, big changes are coming from the head coach to the personnel on the field. Winning Sunday is a start to solving the puzzle, but to get there it’s going to take playing 60 minutes of quality football.
Bucs co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote understands the nature of the outside noise getting louder, and that will only be calmed down by winning and finishing the season strong.
“We do understand winning solves everything,” Foote said Thursday. “That’s what we’re concentrating on.”