Bucs’ road won’t always be a smooth one

by Gary Shelton on September 8, 2021

in general

Brady is after another Super Bowl./(Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers via AP)

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

The expectations were high then, too. The Bucs were champions, finally. Surely, they would make another run. Right?

It was fall of 2003, and the Bucs had the feel of a dynasty. I supposed all champions are that way to a degree, but the Bucs had a dynamic young coach, and a defense for the ages. The offense still needed tinkering, but they had weapons -- Brad Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson, Joe Jurevicius.

And so everyone figured that if the Bucs didn't win it again, they'd at least have something to say about it. Right? Warren Sapp would have something to say, and Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch, and Ronde Barber, and Simeon Rice.

The sky was the limit. Until it was falling.

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In their first title defense, the Bucs went 7-9. They lost a game when they could not block for an extra point. They lost a game when they could not cover a receiver. They lost their mojo, and they could not find it again.

And now, they get to try it one more time.

This year's Bucs feel different. Despite a pedestrian preseason, they have Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. They have Leonard Fournette and Shaq Barrett. They have Devin White and Chris Godwin. They have Mike Evans and Lavonte David. They have Tristan Wirfs and Antonio Winfield.

Again, what can go wrong?

Well, the Cowboys could go wrong. And the Saints and Rams and the Patriots and the Bills and the Dolphins and a few others who will be more than speed bump. In the post-season, there are the Chiefs and the Packers and the Seahawks, et al. And injuries and penalties and turnovers and bad calls and fluke plays. In the NFL, entire seasons can go wrong. Great players for other teams could go wrong.

Thursday night, against a Dallas team with some talent, the Bucs start another journey. If you think anything is guaranteed, you haven't been paying attention. There have been 47 Super Bowl champions who didn't repeat.

Around here, no one talks about those teams. They talk about how many titles Brady has won, and how White looks like the next great linebacker, and how no one can block Barrett, and how many 1,000-yard seasons Evans has had, etcetera. The Bucs return with a pat hand. Won't that be good enough?

“I just think it’s a whole other year," Brady said Tuesday. "I think what we did no one can take away from us. In one way, you’re not really defending it much, it’s kind of in the books. They can’t take away what we’ve done.

" It’s really just a whole other year and experience. We have a chance to go out play the 2021 season the best we possibly can. I think our coaches put us in a great position to be successful. Our personnel department, Jason [Licht] has done a great job. We have a lot of continuity. We have a lot of things to build on and a lot more experience together. That’s really all you can ask for as players is to be in the position that we’re in. I’d just like us to go out and take advantage of that. As good as we played with the same group of guys, I’d love to see where we can get this year. Again, all of it is earned There’s nothing given. It’s not about a bunch of hype or a bunch of buildup and BS. We have to go do it. I think that it’s about a bunch of guys that are really mature and see ourselves as professional athletes. We want to go out there and put our best out there.”

Brady's advice is to start simple.

“I just really want to play at a high level for our team," he said. "I think they’re counting on me to play really well, to play the type of football I’m capable of. I think just for me it’s going to be about trying to kind of be the great leader and great player I can be on a consistent basis – day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out. That’s what I’m trying to be every year. I’m trying to go out there and be the best that I can be.”

Will that be good enough? Will the Bucs be able to stop Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott while shutting down a talented receiving corps? Will Brady coordinate his own weapons enough to get off to a good start?

Yes, Brady said, the offense can improve.

"It’s not like we won 60 to nothing," he said. "We had a lot of games where we struggled and games where we struggled to move the ball, struggled against certain blitzes, struggled to run the ball, struggled to complete passes, so we can improve in a lot of areas.”

Here's a prediction. It's going to be harder than a lot of fans realize. There will be bumps in the road and detours and wrong turns.

In the end, this is still the best roster in the NFC South. It has proven itself in big games. And it has the league's most accomplished quarterback.

In the end, these Bucs will be good.

Whether they can be great remains to be seen.

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