Friday, 4 a.m.
The idea in the NFL is to take advantage of a weakness.
A team is missing a corner. You exploit it. A team has a running back who is hurting. You leverage it. A team is without its best receiver. You blanket the guys who are left. It is a game of attrition, the saying goes. You pour salt on the wound.
Unless you are the Bucs.
When you turn an understudy into a shining star.
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For years now, the Bucs have been beaten by the lowliest of NFL backup quarterbacks. Put the Bucs' defense against them, and Brian Hoyer turns into Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Mallett turns into Tom Brady. The Bucs are starmakers, and as the backups look for a place to land, the Bucs' defense are on a lot of resume tapes.
Think about it. In years to come, Case Keenum and Hasselbeck and Hoyer and Mallett will tell their grandkids about their days in the NFL, and all of the stories will feature the Bucs.
This is important because the immortal Derek Anderson may face the Bucs on Monday night. Cam Newton has been in concussion protocol.
Usually, this would put the Panthers in a bind. Anderson has won two games since 2010. Both of them were against the Bucs in 2014. He hit 49 of 79 passes. He threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions. His ratings were 108.7 and 91.4. Newton may be Superman, all right. But Anderson was Batman.
And so it goes. Three years ago, the Bucs managed to lose to Anderson, Austin Davis (99.1) and Hoyer (85.4). Last year, the team lost to Mallett (75.6), to Tim Hasselbeck (107.4), and to Keenum (158.0). It made a star of Kirk Cousins. Earlier this year, it lost to Keenum (87.0) again.
In years past, the general feeling was that the Bucs' coverage was so passive, so soft, that it allowed mediocre quarterbacks to be masterful. But a new coach, a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme was supposed to change all of that.
And granted, it's hard to find fault with three of the quarterbacks the Bucs have played. Matt Ryan leads the NFL in passing yards. Carson Palmer went deep in the playoffs last year. Trevor Siemian is one of the stories of the year (although rookie Paxton Lynch played more than a half (and had a 94.1 rating).
This year, the Bucs are 18th in the NFL against the pass. They're allowing a rating of 106.8 for opposing quarterbacks. By comparison, the Bucs had an opponents' quarterback rating of 48.4 the year they won the Super Bowl.
The thing is, the Bucs have to be good enough to make the also-rans of the NFL look like poor substitutes for the starters. They have to be in position to take care of a ball that takes long to arrive, that floats along the way.
Everyone can't get rich against the Bucs.
Not unless the results are going to be poor.