"Coach B.A. (Bruce Arians) says it all the time – the first five minutes of the third quarter and the last five minutes of the game is where you win."
That was quarterback Jameis Winston speaking to reporters on Wednesday, echoing a sentiment his coach has said countless times before. Following a win at home over the Arizona Cardinals, we're now seeing the proof of that philosophy.
The Cardinals got the ball to start the second half last Sunday, down 17-13 after the Bucs had scored a last-minute touchdown before halftime. Arizona got all the way to the Tampa Bay 23-yard line before the Bucs' defense stopped them on fourth-down-and-one. Bend, but don't break. It could work as a larger metaphor for the game itself. The Bucs gave up 27 points, but still won the game. Bend, but don't break.
Then came the last five minutes of the game. The Cardinals were again deep in Buccaneer territory, getting to the 15-yard line and threatening to increase their 27-23 lead with less than five minutes to go in the game. Instead of getting into the end zone, or even settling for three points to put them a full seven points ahead, quarterback Kyler Murray was intercepted by Bucs' rookie corner Jamel Dean, who had just entered the game a couple drives prior. Bend, but don't break.
The heads-up play was made by Dean after a full week of extra studying with Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. His improvement from a Seattle game, which saw him thrust into a starting role moments before kickoff due to an injury to Carlton Davis and yielded predictable results, validated by that takeaway. The Seahawks game may have bent Dean, but it didn't break him.
"It says a lot about them," quarterback Jameis Winston said of Dean and his fellow rookie defensive backs' extra work. "It speaks volumes on the coaching staff spending that quality time with them and them being engaged and wanting to learn, because we are young. For them to just want to gain more knowledge, get more comfortable with the scheme and know the positions that they're being put in, it shows that they care, and the fact that they care is the only thing we can ask from them."
Nothing was different this week. Walk past Bowles' office each morning and you'll find someone in there trying to get better, often times multiple players with notebooks in hand. Just like Coach Arians said this week, you can control attitude and effort – and it seems this class of rookies has the right stuff of both.
"I think they learned about preparation," Arians said. "Mike Edwards needs to get out there and join that crew. I think all those guys, I've got confidence in that they'll do a heck of a job. They've got a heck of a task in front of them."
That task is the very familiar, even if not quite for the younger players, New Orleans Saints. The division rivals come to Tampa Bay on Sunday, this time with veteran signal caller Drew Bees in tow. He's armed with the league's best receiver in Michael Thomas and the Bucs don't yet know if cornerback Carlton Davis will be ready to go having missed the prior two games with a hip injury. It could leave the likes of Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting to cover the 10-year vet on the outside. With the familiarity between the two opponents, the victor will probably come down to who can execute better.
"It's huge," Winston said of the matchup with the Saints. "They're going to give us a chance to execute and we've just got to do it. One thing when you know an opponent – it's just going to be 'Mano a mano.' We've got to play our best football, expecting them to play their best football, and whoever does the best out of each, will win the game."
And perhaps who does the best in the first five minutes of the third quarter and the last five minutes of the game. Bend, but don't break.
View some of the top photos from the Buccaneers Week 11 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.