The Buccaneers played in 11 games last season that were decided by one possession. But we aren't talking about last year. Through two games this season, almost the same can be said. Last Thursday night, the Buccaneers held on for a 20-14 victory over the division-rival Carolina Panthers. Week One, though the final score was 31-17, it was 24-17 going into the final minute before an untimely interception returned for a touchdown widened the gap.
The point is, the Bucs have had a shot to win each game and how they fared in the fourth quarter ended up being the deciding factor.
"That's the whole thing, is learning how to win close games," Head Coach Bruce Arians said. "You harp on it – we lost the fourth quarter against San Francisco and we won the fourth quarter against Carolina. You've just got to keep it close and make the plays to win the game at the end. Now that we've done once, it should become easier."
Winning the fourth quarter can mean a variety of things. It can be going down the field for the late score, as the Bucs attempted to do against San Francisco. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay lost the turnover battle in the microcosm of the fourth quarter and it sealed their fate.
Or, winning the fourth quarter can be up to the defense. Against Carolina, the Buccaneers went into the quarter with an eight-point lead. A safety would cut the lead to six and the offense didn't score any fourth-quarter points, but the defense came up huge – forcing the Panthers to turn it over on downs not once, but twice. This preserved the Bucs' pretty dangerous six-point lead and put the ball back in the hands of the offense in time for quarterback Jameis Winston to take a couple knees to end the game.
So, when his team enters the fourth quarter in any game, Arians wants one thing on his players' minds:
"Yeah – winning. Straight up winning. Whatever it takes to win."