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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs: Plenty to Play for Against Packers

The Bucs won't take a "nothing to lose" mindset into Sunday's game against the 10-4 Packers, who provide a perfect late-season challenge for a team that thinks it's close to turning things around


  • While they lack the playoff motivation of their opponents, the Buccaneers aren't approaching Sunday's game against Green Bay any differently
  • In an effort to finish the season on a strong note, the Bucs are pleased that they have a very strong foe coming to town in Week 16
  • Tampa Bay has been competitive in almost every game since the bye week and expects that to continue on Sunday against the Packers

    The Green Bay Packers would be eliminated from the NFC North title race – though definitely not from the overall playoff hunt – if they lost at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday and the Detroit Lions won on the same afternoon at Chicago. In other words, the Packers have a lot on the line this weekend.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-12 heading into the same game, and practically speaking the only effect of Sunday's outcome will be on their eventual position in the draft. If you think that means there will be a wide motivation gap between the two sidelines, think again.

The Buccaneers don't see themselves as that proverbial "team with nothing to lose" in Week 16, the kind of squad that will pull out fake punts and fourth-down gambles and anything else found in the kitchen sink because the reward so outweighs the risk. Since the Buccaneers bye week they have played eight games and had a legitimate chance to win seven of them, with most of those decisions coming down to the wire. Of course, they have won only one of those seven close contests, which means there are obvious shortcomings to be addressed. The Buccaneers plan to continue that effort on Sunday and do whatever they can to try to get the win, within a normal game plan.

"I take it the same way," said quarterback Josh McCown, who had an impressive outing against the Packers last November while leading the Chicago Bears to a 27-20 win at Lambeau Field. "If we were 12-2 or 2-12, I'm going to play the same way. So all the things that we talked about are things we are going to work to improve on: protecting the football, being smart, all of those things. That's the key. It's obviously a tough challenge. They've played really well this year and we need to continue to do all the things that we've laid out as far as what we talk about week in, week out: being a balanced team, being able to run and throw and put a whole game together."

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith is the latest Buccaneer to get a crack at his former team, just like McCown and Lovie Smith (Chicago), Michael Johnson (Cincinnati) and Oniel Cousins (Cleveland) have done earlier in the season. It's possible that will add some level of motivation to Dietrich-Smith's efforts this week, but it's not really a critical point. A Packer from 2009-13 and a playoff participant in each of those five seasons, Dietrich-Smith won't get any additional pleasure from hurting the Packers' chances this year.

On the other hand, he has as much professional pride as the next player, and he insists the Packers will get everything the Bucs have to offer this Sunday.

"Honestly their situation doesn't really affect us," he said. "The way you look at every game you play is that you go out to win the game. It's the NFL, you get paid to compete, you get paid to be a professional and to say that we're going to there and lay down for these guys is not what's going to happen. They know that, we know that, they it's going to be a game and we've obviously been competitive in a lot of games, been very close. I don't think that they expect to come down here and for this to be an easy game for them."


Head Coach Lovie Smith thinks the visiting Packers provide his team with the perfect challenge as the season is drawing to a close

None of this is to say that no NFL team has ever "played out the string" before during a disappointing campaign. There can certainly be varying levels of commitment and late-season will between different squads. Even the 2011 Buccaneers, who lost their last 10 games and were outscored during that stretch by an average of 17.5 points per contest, had the feel of a far less competitive team in December, no matter how highly-motivated they may have been. The current Buccaneers team is extremely disappointed in its win-loss record but is also confident it can win every time out. Playing the Packers gives them a particularly outstanding opportunity to prove that.

"We've come close at times and done some good things, but I don't know if we've done that completely," said McCown. "We've got to do that better. This is another opportunity to get that done. This is a team that, they've played good football, they've got one of the best quarterbacks in the game, they're a very good football team, so it's a great challenge for us to go out there and play a team like this and to go out there and stand toe-to-toe with them. To go win that football game would be huge for us, and be huge momentum for us. We're excited about it. Nothing changes with our approach. We're continuing to approach, every guy in there, the same way, so that's a good thing."

In fact, while the 10-4 Packers obviously present a pretty significant hurdle to Tampa Bay getting its first home win of the season, the Bucs wouldn't want it any other way. Perhaps in that small way there is a little something to that "nothing to lose" idea. If the Bucs had a playoff spot on the line on Sunday, they might feel more comfortable against a visiting team with a losing record. Since that's not the case, the higher the hurdle the better.

"[It's a] big challenge for us," said Smith. "In a situation like we are, you can't feel a lot better about where we are, rising up against a great team like this."

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