I've been wondering how the Buccaneers spent their bye week. Sure, the coaches will tell you they are focused on the next game (Cincinnati Bengals). This is something a coach says to keep his players focused on the right task: win one game at a time. But coaches are sly. And they can be very sly at times. There is nothing better for a young team than time to regroup. More study, more time, more technique, and more healing all go a long way in a long season. Add in the benefit of extra preparation time and you can expand the playbook a bit for the rest of the season. The question is how to expand the playbook. Certain things work better against certain teams. So where did the Buccaneers spend their time?
The next game is always the most important game for any young team, particularly one as young as the 2010 Buccaneers. And this weekend's game against the Bengals is no less important. The challenges are obvious: Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are outstanding physical talents even though their mental composure is sometimes questioned. Cincinnati (2-2) beat Carolina 20-7 and Baltimore 15-10, but lost to Cleveland 23-20 and New England 38-24. Buccaneer fans are familiar with Carolina and Cleveland, the "two" in the Buccaneers 2-1 record. Certainly, this is a team the Buccaneers can compete with. On the "against" side, this is the second road trip for this young team this year and you can expect a bigger, more hostile crowd in Cincinnati. Cincinnati also represents the middle of a challenging early-season three game stretch for Tampa Bay with this game sandwiched between games against the Steelers and the Saints. Winning this game means 3-1, a second strong road performance, and another notch in the growth of the 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
However, the more important game for this season could be the Saints game at Raymond James Stadium the following week. At 3-1, the Saints are currently at the top of the NFC South. The most direct route to the playoffs is a division crown. To win it, you have to win your home divisional games, then steal some road games. The Buccaneers have already won at Carolina and so are on track thus far. The Saints, however, have lost a division game -- a home game against Atlanta in fact. This puts the Falcons in the driver's seat for now, and the Buccaneers must hold serve at home to keep pace. We all remember the overtime road win at the SuperDome late last season (the link is video, with a priceless moment, which will forever put a smile on my face -- you'll know it when it happens). So we know Tampa Bay is certainly capable of winning this game, too.
Which is why you have to wonder if Head Coach Raheem Morris might have worked on some packages specifically needed to attack New Orleans this past bye week. Certainly Coach Morris knows the formula. Just as certainly, the Buccaneers and Saints know each other inside and out. So any little unexpected wrinkle may go a long way towards a win. And coaches, those sly coaches, they can work in this wrinkle here and that wrinkle there while practicing for one game, knowing full well it won't be used until the game after next.
Of course, reaching 4-1 makes the discussion irrelevant. But would you risk a loss to the AFC Cincinnati Bengals to beat the NFC New Orleans Saints? And how important is it to stay unbeaten at home?
Getting to 3-2 with a win over Cincinnati and a loss to New Orleans would put the Buccaneers at 1-1 in the division with a home divisional loss. Such a scenario would firmly put the Atlanta Falcons in the lead of the divisional race.
On the other hand, 3-2 with a loss to Cincinnati and a victory over New Orleans would bury the chance of New Orleans winning the division crown pretty deeply, turning the four team NFC South into a two horse race. So perhaps a tiny bit of bye-week emphasis on New Orleans may have been in order.
Doing enough to beat the Bengals is good; putting in a little something for the Saints sounds good, too. Really, really good.
It's not a slam on the Cincinnati Bengals.
It's just keeping your eye on the prize.