The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have hit the closest thing to the halfway point in a 17-game season, heading into a Week Nine bye with a 6-2 record through their first eight games of 2021.
The Buccaneers didn't quite ride into their much-needed bye with a full head of steam, as their four-game winning streak was snapped by a 36-27 loss in New Orleans on Sunday. Still, they are in first place in the NFC South, by a half-game over the Saints, and can be no worse than tied for the division lead coming out of the break.
Last year, Tampa Bay lost three of its last four before a very late bye in Week 13, falling to 7-5 and painting them as fringe contenders for the Super Bowl. They were 2.5 games behind the Saints in the standings when they settled into a week of rest. However, the Bucs came out of that break red-hot, with the offense turning into a nearly unstoppable force and the defense cranking up the turnovers and sacks. An eight-game winning streak ensued, culminating in the 31-9 win over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV.
The bye week will be used primarily to rest and recharge, with the players getting each day off from Tuesday through Sunday. However, it also provides an opportunity for the coaching staff to review everything that has occurred through the first eight games, looking for ways to improve the areas that aren't yet up to the Bucs' Super Bowl standard. The issues in Sunday's loss to the Saints were obvious – turnovers and penalties.
"Just go back and look at the tape" said Arians. "Look where we're at right now, just like we did last year. We're 6-2 and last year we were 7-5, so it's a little bit better. See if we can get back and correct the selfish penalties."
The main thing the bye week offers to each NFL team is time, time for injured players to heal and get closer to returning to the lineup. Lavonte David made it back on Sunday against the Saints but Rob Gronkowski only lasted a few plays before succumbing to back spasms and Richard Sherman didn't play at all. Moreover, the Buccaneers have a handful of contributors on injured reserve who are expected to return at some point in the second half of the season, hopefully sooner rather than later. That list includes cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting and wide receiver Scotty Miller.
"I feel like the most important thing [is], we've just got to get healthy," said linebacker Devin White. "We've only lost two games this year. It ain't like last time – I think we lost three in a row going into the bye. We've just got to get healthy and try to play complementary football. Just try to be the best we can be and stick together. I'd like to have Sean back, I'd like to have Carlton back. Those guys are guys that we really synch with, Coach [Todd] Bowles knows what he can do with they're out there on the field. It's just a different game plan when you have different players in. When we get back healthy, and I think after the bye, that's a good time for us to all come back and unite as one."
The Bucs' next opponent, in Week 10, is the Washington Football Team. The Bucs will start the second half of their season with a trip to the capital, the same destination that started their Super Bowl run in last year's postseason. A home game against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football follows. The Buccaneers may not completely run the table like they did after last year's bye week, but they will definitely try to come out of the break hotter than they went in.