Players have improved in Koetter's first season.

Players have improved in Koetter's first season.

Tuesday, 3 a.m.

Forget the praise he got as a coordinator. He had never been a head coach, and because of it, some were worried.

The schedule looked tough, especially for a team that had spent most of a decade and a half swallowing dirt. The culture stunk. The expectations were low. And no one knew if the new guy in charge was really any different after all.

Slowly, Tony Dungy proved himself.

Quickly, Dirk Koetter is doing the same thing.

Go back 20 years ago, and you will see similarities. Dungy was quietly confident. Koetter is a bit louder, but he isn't filled with self-doubt, either. Dungy had better weapons on defense. Koetter has better weapons on offense.

Really, however, both of them faced the same chore: A team that had grown use to finishing second on Sunday. The Bucs expected to lose; that was one of the first things Dungy had to change. Also, Koetter. Dungy won one of his first nine games. Koetter won one of his first four.

When Dungy took over the Bucs, the team had lost for 13 straight seasons, and 12 of those were seasons of double-digit losses. When Koetter took over. The team hadn't won a playoff game for another 13 seasons, and seven of those had been double-digit losses. In other words, ouch.

There are other similarities. Dungy didn't pretty up his playbook with gimmick plays. Koetter hasn't, either. But slowly, Dungy's players got better, and the scores got closer. Dungy's team won five of its last seven that year, and with a glittering 6-10 record,

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These days, the Bus' defenses is putting plenty of pressure on quarterbacks.t/ANDREW J. KRAMER

These days, the Bus' defenses is putting plenty of pressure on quarterbacks.t/ANDREW J. KRAMER

Monday, 4 a.m.

Every day, the pass rush gets a bit better. No, it isn't, say, that of the '85 Bears. But it's growing, and it's getting better. It isn't benign anymore.

Every day, the coverage gets a little tighter. No, it isn't the '89 49ers. But it's better, and it's combative. It isn't chasing receivers anymore.

Every day, the linebackers come up with the big play. No, they aren't the '79 Steelers. But they're better, and they tackle crisply, and they know where the end zone is.

Every week, every game, the defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs get better, smarter, hungrier. Every time out, at that time when there is a game to be won, they make plays. Their belief grows. Their competitiveness soars. Once again, you can smile when you see the defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs take the field.

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Sunday ,5 a.m.

Hi. I'm Jeff Fisher, coach for life. And next year, we hope to be even better than 7-9, whether we need to be or not.

– Did Alabama score again? I drifted off.

– I was shocked that Tony Dungy endorsed Willie Taggart for the Oregon job. I was thinking he'd pick Les Steckel. Mike Shula? Clyde Christensen?

– Cleveland weatherman Scott Sabol has threatened not to shave until the Browns win a game. Already, he looks like a Confederate war general, as scraggly and homely as the losing streak itself. Nice pandering, Scott.

– People who should be pulling for Chip Kelly to return to Oregon. Every member of the San Francisco 49ers.

– So is Rolando McClain a member of the NFL or not? Discuss.

– Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown says to call him “Ronald” from now on. No one knows if it's a tribute to McDonald's, but he also wants to go by “The Hamburglar.”

– Charles Barkley says that the Golden State Warriors play “girly” basketball. Maybe that explains the photo of “Xena – Warrior Princess” on the jerseys.

– Does Art Briles accept that Houston didn't want him as football coach? If Briles' history shows us anything, it's that he doesn't understand that “no means no.”

– Jarran Reed says that Bucs' center Joe Hawley “went crying like a 14-year-old girl” for saying Reed spat in his face. The boxscore? Reed had one solo tackle, two total and zero sacks. Someone's in the wrong game of hopscotch, methinks.

– Going into the weekend, Tiger Woods was the 898th-rated golfer in the world. That means he'd fit just fine in a 900-player bracket.

– I'll miss Vern Lundquist, too, but what's the record for the longest retirement? Eight days? 10?

– There was a Gainesville bar who offered free shots every time Florida scored in the SEC title game. Good thing it wasn't Alabama, or the entire city would be Foster Brooks-ville.

– Just wondering: How much of the appeal of hockey is the relative quickness of the game compared to college football?

– Love the creativity of Browns fans, who have modified the old Kellen Winslow jerseys. After removing the O, they now say Wins 0.

– Every time I hear Raul Castro, and I think he's the backup Castro, only to be used when the real nut-bar isn't available. Which he isn't.

– If you're counting, Florida's basketball team gave up 54 points or less four times last year.

– Eric Dickerson won't attend Rams' games because he doesn't like Jeff Fisher. Why didn't the rest of Los Angeles think of that?

– I'll start watching MMA when Flo fights the Dr. Pepper guy in a cage match.

– NFL.com ran a simulation, and it came out that winless Cleveland would beat undefeated Alabama 93.6 percent of the time. When you think of some of the more notable Alabama busts: Rolando McClain, Dee Milner, Mark Barron and Trent Richardson, it's possible. But not if Robert Griffin III plays quarterback.

– Pop quiz: Which almost-Buc did Tampa Bay have the most luck in avoiding: a) Chip Kelly; b) Jay Cutler; c) Albert Haynesworth.

– Browns' vice president of football operations Sashi Brown says he isn't worried about the team's record. That's like the dumb kids not being worried about a calculus test. And Brown of the Browns? What? Is this like the Ramones?

– The NFL.com ranked the top 10 most disappointing free agents. No, J.R. Sweezy did not make the list. Which means NFL.com probably forgot about him. Like everyone else.

– How much would they have to expand the playoffs to include Lovie Smith's 3-9 Illinois team?

– Bear Bryant? I remember him. Why, he was the second-best coach that Alabama ever had.

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Bishop accepts congratulations from Cedric Pacquette./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Bishop accepts congratulations from Cedric Pacquette./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Finally, victory.

Finally, the Tampa Bay Lightning could surround their goaltender and tap him on the head. Finally, they could enjoy the cheers of the home crowd. Finally, the lights were bright instead of being surrounded by dark clouds.

Finally, the Lightning won another gme.

After a four-game losing streak, the Bolts returned to the winner's circle with a 2-1, shootout victory over the Washington Caps. Goaltender Ben Bishop stopped 34 of 35 shots.

The Lightning got a regulation goal from Nikita Kucherov, and both Brayden Point and Brian Boyle scored in the shootout. The five minute four-on-four period ended scoreless.

The Bolts had struggled with their goaltenders during their four-game losing streak, giving up 19 goals in the skid. That wasn't a problem. Bishop stopped 23 shots in the second and third period.

“A lot of times, when you’ve lost a couple in a row, it’s worrisome if you’re not playing well,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We just went through a spurt where we weren’t playing that well, but you could see we were coming against St. Louis and I know we didn’t get the result we wanted, but I didn’t walk into that room saying, “Wow. That was a tough one again.” We were kind of building on that and so we just had a good feeling about, you know, let’s just carry that into tonight. You never know how the result’s going to be, but you keep that effort going and they gave us a great effort tonight and kept a really good team off the board. As I said, you know, you go to the shootout, you win some, you lose some. Guys put some nice pucks on the net on an outstanding goalie and Bish was there to make the last save.”

Kucherov gave the Bolts a 1-0 lead with his 13th goal. Niklas Backstrom scored on a power play to tie the game midway through the third period.

“I’m sure that when they scored their goal, we probably were a little more on edge than we were when we had the one goal lead, but there’s a reason,” said Cooper, whose team moved to 10-1 in games where they scored first. “Get the lead and you’ve got a better chance to win the game. It was tough because we kept – one of the big things is you’ve got to keep them off the power play. We didn’t take a penalty in the first and then we took (six) in the last two plus periods.

"So I thought our penalty kill did an outstanding job. If you were going to sit there and say we’re going to take (six) penalties and give up one goal against Washington, we would take that all day and then our PP came up big too. I thought the guys stuck with it the whole game. I thought Bish was strong from all the way out. It was good to get those two points.”

The better defensive effort gave the Bolts a chance.

“I know it was one of our better full, 60-minute games,” said Bishop. “I thought maybe one of the best ones we’ve played all season, start to finish. Besides some of the penalties we kind of carried the play and didn’t have those lapses like we’ve had in the past so that was a good game and obviously it’s a big two points now we just have to keep building.”

Said Boyle: it’s not a switch. We can only go so bad that we kind of had to go back to basics. It’s going to be a process and we’re getting it pretty quick, but it’s still a process. We’re still trying to cut down some mistakes and some zone time, some chances. But for the most part I thought we were skating and we were on pucks, we were on the forecheck and that’s going to alleviate a lot of stuff in our end.”

Tampa Bay plays today at Carolina.

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Ask Gary: Can the Bucs win five straight games?

December 3, 2016 general

(Each week, the readers take over GarySheltonsports.com and play Ask Gary. They send in a question, or a couple, on Thursday night or Friday morning and we all talk about the world of sports.  Think of it as a radio show where you don’t have to be on hold. Join us and ask a question, make a comment […]

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Lightning’s slide continues against Blues

December 2, 2016 general

Friday, 5 a.m. Don’t look now, but the Tampa Bay Lightning is moving in the wrong direction. The Lightning, one of the fastest, most dynamic skating teams in the league, is suddenly making the beep-beep-beep sound of a golf card in reverse. They don’t shoot as much. They don’t score as much. They don’t win […]

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Ask the expert: Jerry Angelo

December 1, 2016 general

Jerry Angelo is a former personnel director for the Bucs and former general manager of the Bears. Each week, Angelo answers your questions regarding the NFL. Send your questions to GarySheltonsports@gmail.com with “ask the expert” in the subject line. The most interesting questions will be selected. Thursday, 5 a.m. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has always […]

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Best of the Bucs’ off-season additions

December 1, 2016 general

Wednesday, 3 a.m. Road kill, Jon Gruden used to call them. Jags, Bill Parcells called them (just a guy). Leftovers. Seat-holders. Bit players. You find them in the back of sporting goods stores, hauling boxes in between workouts. They hang around the college campus, biding their time. They are the men who talk to their […]

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Committee’s job is to select the best four. Period.

November 30, 2016 College Sports in Florida

Wednesday, 3 a.m. They do not cure inflation. They do not fix the Electoral College. They do not turn Justin Bieber into a musician reasonable people can stand to listen to. They pick four teams for the playoffs. That’s it. They do not make the Mid-American Conference a major league in professional football. They do […]

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This time, don’t look for the Bucs to step into a hole

November 29, 2016 general

Tuesday, 3 a.m. This is better. Really, it is. Yes, the Bucs have been to familiar terrain before. They are 6-5; last year, they were 6-6. Last year, the teams they beat had a total of 29 wins; same thing this year. Last year, they had won three out of four. This year, they’ve won […]

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