TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Buccaneers have been playing like they have something to prove, which is no surprise to fans – the team has been saying this throughout the preseason. Tampa Bay is in it to win it, and their gritty play showed that Sunday when they topped the Minnesota Vikings 20-17 in a highly anticipated matchup between quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kirk Cousins.
For many outsiders, bettors and national reporters, there was very little faith for the Buccaneers to win more than one game this season.
After quarterback Tom Brady announced his retirement earlier this year, all eyes turned toward the Bucs, assuming the team would be in shambles following his departure. Then, the team fired their then-offensive coordinator, Bryon Leftwich, along with several other coaches. While purging veteran players from the roster, it appeared Tampa Bay would be in their rebuilding era for the 2023 season.
But that’s not necessarily a fair perception, so why do national media outlets continue painting the Bucs as a lesser contender? Before preseason even kicked off, DraftKings favored the Bucs would only win one out of 17 games, while Sports Illustrated predicted they’d win two.
“It’s very easy to go, ‘Alright, Tampa Bay, what do you got? Ugh, Tom Brady’s out, Baker Mayfield’s in, well, they’re done,” Bucs’ Insider Dan Lucas said in regards to how the national media can overlook the Bucs.
Heading into the Week 1 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, the NFL, ESPN, USA Today and CBS Sports all picked Minnesota to walk away with a win – and the Bucs took notice.
At the beginning of the opener, the Bucs’ defense was aggressive and came out ready. The offense also did its job, but as Mayfield settled in and became more comfortable, Tampa Bay started to ignite. However, this is nothing new to those who’ve paid attention to the team during the offseason.
The Buccaneers saw a lot of changes ahead of this year’s season, like hiring a new offensive coordinator, Dave Canales, who previously worked as the Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach, and, of course, signing Mayfield to a one-year contract.
Sunday was actually the first time Canales really got to shine because it was his first time calling an NFL game – and he won (with nods to the Bucs’ defense).
“It’s very simple without looking, really diving in and talking to people who’ve been at camp, who have watched reps in practice and in the preseason games and watched [Mayfield’s] efficiency and how it works hand-in-hand with (offensive coordinator) Dave Canales,” Lucas said. “It would be very difficult to say, ‘If you’ve seen all that, that this team is doomed.’ I don’t see how that’s possible.”
Aside from Mayfield and Canales gelling on offense, the team’s rookies and young players stepped up and made an impression.
Last season, Tampa Bay had one of the oldest rosters in the NFL; Now they have one of the youngest and inexperienced rosters in team history, but that didn’t stop the rookies from making impactful plays.
“Some of the names you don’t know yet, but you will,” Bucs’ head coach Todd Bowles told Lucas during his sit-down “Bucs with Bowles” interview Monday.
Of course, it is only Week 1 of the most-anticipated time of the year, but to rule the Bucs out on a national level isn’t a fair take.
“If they lose a lot of games, they lose a lot of games, but I don’t think it’s a fair perception from the national perspective that this is ‘doom and gloom,’ I really don’t,” Lucas concluded.
The Bucs will face off against the Chicago Bears in a home opener at Raymond James Stadium Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET.