Memory of Bucs’ season rests on tonight

by Gary Shelton on January 17, 2021

in general

Evans needs to make a difference./TIM WIRT

Sunday, 4 a.m.

It was a success. Or it was a disappointment.

It was a bargain. Or it was a busted investment.

It was big news. Or it was an overhyped football team.

All things are settled about the season of the Tampa Bay Bucs tonight. All questions are answered. If the Bucs can upset the New Orleans Saints -- who have pounded them twice this season -- then no one will question the investment the franchise made with the Brady Bunch, that talented group of free agents who have led them to the Divisional Playoff game.

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But if they lose? If they lose, their season will be over only just inside the door of the playoffs. The money spent, and the emotional investment involved, will seem as if the team didn't get quite where it wanted.

In other words, how you remember this season hinges on tonight. Beat the Saints, and it would be hard to argue that it's not been a good year. Lose, and you might wonder just how good they should have been.

Oh, let's be honest. The Bucs themselves would suggest that there are two more steps to be made after this one. Tampa Bay would have to beat New Orleans, No. 1 seed Green Bay and then the AFC Champions in the playoffs.

But if the Bucs can pull this off, and then lose in Green Bay, then its' going to be hard to quibble with the season. Say what you want about Super Bowl or bust, but for a team that hadn't been in the playoffs since 2007, reaching the Final Four would make it hard to muster outrage.

So can the Bucs get past Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill? Can they get past a defense (ranked fourth in the NFL) that has haunted them?

By now, you know the checklist to winning. It's keeping the quarterback protected, reducing offensive turnovers, avoiding penalties, succeeding in the red zone, making big play, running the quarterback and pressuring the opposing quarterback.

Can the Bucs do that? In their two games against the Saints, they haven't. Tom Brady has thrown five interceptions, and he's been sacked six times, and Kamara has been elusive. Stopping those guys is a tough assignment. Receiver Mike Evans has been smothered.

And yet, it was what the fans of the Bucs ask for.

The good news? The Bucs are more cohesive than they were in their first loss, which came in the season-opener. Their chemistry is better than it was in the second game.

Is it good enough to win in tonight's 6:40 p.m. game?

We'll see. It says here that the Bucs play a hell of a game, but being on the road may make a difference.

Prediction: New Orleans 28, Tampa Bay 26.

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