Yes, it's only March. Yes, the new league year just turned over. Yes, we've only gotten past the initial phase of free agency but the champs are here and apparently here to stay, according to NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus. Your Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ranked No. 1 and favored to repeat as Super Bowl champs at this juncture in time. What a world, am I right?
Think back to a year ago, as the country began to shut down, the Bucs began to ramp up. They signed quarterback Tom Brady in what could end up being the biggest free agency move in NFL history on March 20. The buzz began as the Bucs were relatively quiet otherwise before then adding tight end Rob Gronkowski the next month. Tampa Bay held onto the prior year's sack leader in Shaq Barrett via the franchise tag. They re-signed defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh as well, keeping the front seven of the defense together that had dominated against the run in 2019. They added a few more puzzle pieces over the summer and then voila: on paper, the Bucs had seemingly assembled the Avengers.
After achieving the ultimate goal in the franchise's second Lombardi Trophy, why mess with success now?
"The champs are running it back ... and can you blame them?" writes Hanzus. "Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David will all return on new deals, while Tom Brady agreed to a one-year extension to stick around through 2022 (at least). You can't blame Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht for their reasoning here: Nearly every decision they made last year turned out golden. There's no reason to bust up the party when it might be just getting started."
The news of Gronkowski's new deal became official on Monday, when he met with the media. It was then that even Gronk himself hinted that the Bucs' offense in particular could be just hitting their stride.
"I definitely do think we can be better on the offensive side of the ball," said Gronkowski. "You saw it sometimes during the season and beginning of the year like we weren't really putting up points or we weren't really clicking together. I feel like with so many players coming back, another offseason, another training camp and a full season under our belt, that we can definitely continue where we left off."
With so many new pieces, it took the Bucs a little bit to get going offensively. That first and foremost started with Brady, as he and his coaches began to mesh their two styles and figure out what worked. The defense, in the meantime, carried the team for much of the regular season. The consensus turning point ended up being Tampa Bay's Week 13 bye week. Coming off a loss to the 2019 Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12, the Bucs were sitting at 7-5 and exhausted.
But they wouldn't lose another game in the 2020 season.
Not only did the defense hold opponents to an average of less than 19 points a game to close out the final four games, the offense averaged a whopping 37 points per game as they cruised into the postseason. They were finally firing on all cylinders after seemingly figuring everything out and it was just in time. As a Wildcard, the Bucs played all division winners in their playoff games and had to run through quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and finally Patrick Mahomes in their quest for the Lombardi.
So miss me with that 'win a real ring' talk, please.
The goal, now that the Bucs have brought a majority of their high-profile players back from last year in the first phase of free agency, is like Hanzus said: the Bucs are looking to pick up where they left off.
"It feels good to just go out there now, during training camp and just do what I gotta do instead of learning, you know, just thinking in my head, 'Oh man, did I do that? Did I get that audible, right.? Did I die run that hot call right? Did I run the right route?'" said Gronk. "When you're thinking like that it's kind of hard to play your best football. It's just great now that I'm going to training camp this year and can just work on my skills; go out there and not be thinking out on the field and just try to do what I do."
He then added these immortal words:
"Because when you're thinking, you're already losing."
Good thing NFL.com didn't think too hard then in these pre-emptive power rankings: the team that won the Super Bowl is the top team going into 2021. Simple as that.