Bucs will try to up their game vs. Eagles

by Gary Shelton on January 15, 2024

in general

Evans was the Bucs' only Pro Bowler./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

The best thing you can say about the current edition of the Tampa Bay Bucs is this: They’re a pretty good team. 

The worst thing you can say about the Bucs is the same thing.

In a bottom-line league, in a league where only the Super Bowl really matters, the Bucs are better than average. But only that.

Content beyond this point is for members only.

Already a member? To view the rest of this column, sign in using the handy "Sign In" button located in the upper right corner of the GarySheltonSports.com blog (it's at the far right of the navigation bar under Gary's photo). Not a member? It's easy to subscribe so you can view the rest of this column and all other premium content on GarySheltonSports.com.

It is a damning realization. They are stuck between being a team that has made the playoffs, but a team who no one expects to go very far. Perhaps they lose tonight, to an underachieving Eagles team. And perhaps they don’t. They are champions, but they are flawed. They are still alive, but no one expects that to last very long either.

When the Bucs were awful, worst-in-the-world awful, it used to be a common refrain: If only they were average. If only they could win as many as they lose. If only they could be competitive.

That mantra died about three minutes after the Bucs grew decent. The Bucs' losing seasons still outnumber the winning ones 2-1, but two Super Bowl titles have left the fans with a taste for winning.

Rising expectations are not a bad thing, mind you. Teams invest millions of dollars and hours of labor to try to be the best. Fans have a right to expect their team to be more than “pretty good.” They want their teams to make a run at the big prize and, every now and then, to win it.

This team? This team was good enough to win nine games, and ordinary enough to lose eight. It has a comeback player of the year candidate in Baker Mayfield, but he didn’t sniff the Pro Bowl.  Rachaad White had almost 1,000 yards, but the Bucs were last in the league in rushing. The Bucs had just one Pro Bowl player (Mike Evans), while the 49ers had nine. The Ravens had seven and the Eagles and Dolphins each had six.

Yes, they have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Lavonte David and Antonio Winfield, Tristan Wirfs and Mayfield. But they also have Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Logan Hall and cornerbacks who get lost.

Stack the teams of the NFL, and the Bucs, fairly, are going to be about the 14th-best team. Maybe the 16th.

Tonight, they feel like underdogs. Like they need a huge play or a big turnover.

True, the Bucs were good enough to win the NFC South for a third straight year, but that’s kind of like being the toughest kid in the chess club.

In pro sports, “pretty good” is a left-handed compliment. It puts a team somewhere between a parade and a good draft pick. 

For instance, the Bucs are good enough that three of their four secondary members are filthy rich. Yet the team is soft against the pass. It means the rush isn’t special. It means the head coach is a little, well, dull.

But can “pretty good” win a playoff game? We’ll see tonight. The Eagles are much, much more talented, but they’ve been lost lately. A couple of turnovers, a couple of big plays, and maybe you can see the Bucs hanging around for another game.

Even after all they have seen, the fans will expect it. Some of them will still call for Kyle Trask, and some of them will be shocked at a bad penalty. Because they’re fans, and they want more from their team.

Granted, this team is better than it was under Lovie Smith or Raheem Morris or Ray Perkins or Leeman Bennett.

In the playoffs, however,  that’s a small favor. In the playoffs, pretty good is not enough.

Tonight, perhaps for the final time, the Bucs will try to be very good.

Previous post:

Next post: