TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After starting the season (2-0), the Bucs have now lost three of their last four. Even with that though, they are still sitting atop the NFC South at (3-3) along with the Falcons, who have the same record.
“We’re ultimately in the position that we would like to be in, but we’re just not playing the way we want to play,” said Bucs outside linebacker Shaq Barrett. “Once we start playing the way we want to play, we’ll be in a better position.”
“It’s a marathon,” said Bucs Head Coach Todd Bowles. “I wouldn’t say urgency because they play hard all the time. We’ve got to play smarter. We’ve got to coach smarter. So, it’s not a sense of urgency, it’s just a sense of awareness and a sense of us coming together, knowing what kind of team we are this year.”
So what do the Bucs need to do this week and beyond to figure that out?
“Just play better,” said Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans. “Play better and keep doing what I do – balling hard and staying positive.”
“We need to do a good job of earning it,” said Bucs quarterback Tom Brady. “That means going out and emphasizing the right things, working on the right things, practicing, gaining confidence and ultimately going out in the game and executing. That’s the reality of what we have to do. Our whole job is to try to go accomplish that. We’re putting a lot of focus on that.”
“This [isn’t] the first time we’ve been in tough situations together as a group,” said Bucs Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. “We’re smart enough to know – ‘Hey man, this is a long season. Let’s make sure we’re focusing on what we need to focus on.’ This group is always great with that. This group is always really good with the understanding of how long a season is, the ups and downs in the season. We’re just going to lock in, focus, and try to find a way to get a win this week.”
The Bucs will look to apply the things they’re working on at practice in Sunday’s divisional game against a Panthers team that’s (1-5), dropped three-straight, and just traded their best offensive player, running back Christian McCaffrey, to the San Francisco 49ers.
“It’s a must-win game against a division opponent,” said Bucs cornerback Jamel Dean. “We could actually use this game to seal the division knowing that we just swept the whole division. It’s important just like any other game, but since it’s a division game, it’s really important.”
The Bucs were also facing a one-win team last week, and ended-up losing by two points to the Steelers, so don’t think there’s any overlooking this Carolina team—especially when the taste of going (1-3) in their last four is so bitter.
“It’s miserable when you lose,” Leftwich said. “This game is about winning and losing. It’s not even really about how you play. When you win in this league, you’re happy. When you don’t win in this league, you’re not happy. It’s just a part of it. When you’ve lost as much as we’ve lost in the past four weeks, we need to find a way to get a good taste in our mouth so we’re just going to keep working [and] try to put ourselves in position to win football games because we like winning them a whole lot more than we like losing them. Trust me.”
“We’ve been frustrated,” Brady said. “We’ve definitely been frustrated, for sure. We have a lot of great competitors. Again, I don’t think anyone in your job is going to feel great if you’re doing your job and it’s not going well. It’s the same for football players too. For us, when you’re at (3-3), yeah we wish we were better but we haven’t earned it.”
But there’s no doubt in this locker room or among the coaches that this team can find a winning recipe going forward.
“When we’re in these tough moments, it’s not supposed to always be good,” Leftwich said. “How do we react? That’s what I love the most about this group. Everybody puts their hand in the pile. Nobody is beginning to point fingers– regardless of what’s going on. We come in and come to work. That’s what I love about this group. I trust that. What that’s going to mean, we’ll see, but I trust that process that we go through. We’ve been in these types of moments before – people throwing dirt on us and everything like that. We’ll see. We’ll keep working and we’ll see.”
“I’ve definitely been a part of seasons where we have not played as well as we’re capable, and I don’t think it’s enjoyable for anyone,” Brady said. “I think everyone is working hard to get it right. I’m sure you guys in your job like to get it right. We like to get it right in our job, and when it doesn’t go right– I don’t think anyone’s happy in their job when it’s not right. We’re certainly not happy when it’s not right and we’re working hard to get it right.”