They say that on any given Sunday, one team can rise up and beat any other in the National Football League. There are a myriad of determining factors that give one team the edge over the other from game to game. Normally, the home field advantage is among the most notable.
However, for much of the first half of the regular season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the epitome of the exact opposite of that train of thought after starting off 0-4 at home. Despite that moribund early record, the Bucs entered Sunday’s game at home against the surging Seattle Seahawks on a two-game winning streak after wins against the Chicago Bears at home and a win at Kansas City.
The Seahawks were favored by six points and none of the cable sports network talking heads were giving Tampa Bay a chance. Seattle QB Russell Wilson’s legs were finally healthy and he had proven that he was fully capable of standing in the pocket and dissecting secondaries again. But Tampa’s defense, as well as Winston’s steadily improving ability to read defenses, got Tampa Bay an unlikely, and dog-ass ugly, 14-5 victory.
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For his part, Tampa Bay signal caller Jameis Winston seemed to be in danger of suffering from the dreaded sophomore slump after a poor outing against the Arizona Cardinals in which he threw four interceptions early in the season. But Winston has found a friend in wide receiver Mike Evans. And like Woody and Buzz Lightyear, they would like to take this team “to infinity and beyond.”
The increased synergy between Winston and Evans has been integral to the recent string of victories; 13 targets, six catches, 105 yards against Kansas City, five targets, four catches, 66 yards against the Chicago Bears and 17 targets, 11 catches, 150 yards in a loss against Atlanta Falcons. Evans already has over 1,000 yards with five games left in the season. He is on track to break his personal best mark of 1,200 yards tallied last season.
Additionally, the Tampa Bay defense has been uncharacteristically stubborn as of late, too. Porous outings against Atlanta, Oakland and Denver have been sprinkled amid stifling defensive efforts against Kansas City, Chicago and a paltry five points surrendered to the Seahawks. This may indicate that defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s boys are getting better as the season progresses.
Next week’s game against the San Diego Chargers is very winnable, as is at least one game of a home and away split against the division rival New Orleans Saints, and a January 1 game against Carolina Panthers. The toughest remaining game on the Bucs’ schedule is at the Dallas Cowboys on December 18.
If they can win three of the next five games, Tampa Bay might just find themselves in position to overcome the Atlanta Falcons and win the division.