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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

First Things First

Back in the driver’s seat for the playoffs, Tampa Bay is focusing just one week ahead


CB Donnie Abraham's two picks helped seal an 'ugly' Buc win

If good things really come in threes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be primed for the trifecta. A three-game Buccaneer winning streak has resulted in a three-way tie atop the NFC Central, and now the Bucs could move closer to a coveted playoff spot with their third win against an AFC West opponent. The Bucs, however, aren't thinking in threes; they prefer one, as in 'one week at a time.'

Yes, yes, it is a familiar refrain. NFL coaches all espouse the 'game-at-hand' approach, fearing the danger in looking past a specific opponent for more distant desires. It is familiar, but no less true in the case of Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy, who is primarily interested in the consistency of his team's play. That means focusing on this coming Sunday's matchup with the 8-2 Seahawks in Seattle and on becoming the type of team that can take control of the muddled Central Division picture.

"Noone is playing great football right now from what I can see and that's a little bit disappointing," said Dungy of the 'Black-and-Blue' Division. "What you've got to look for is someone getting hot and someone to start playing well. Minnesota has won four in a row, but other than that I don't think anybody is really playing as well as they would like to be playing, including us. So I'd say we're right in there with the rest of the group.

"I think we've felt all year that if we start playing to our capabilities, we've got a chance to get going and run off some wins. We've run off three now, though maybe not the way we would like to. This is going to be a big game for us this week, and it would really help if we could get another road win. But everyone in the NFC is probably sitting there saying, 'If we could play two or three good weeks in a row, we've got a chance to get out in front."

That chance certainly exists for the Buccaneers, who have a 6-4 record to match those of Detroit and Minnesota. Green Bay trails by one game at 5-5 after downing Detroit on Sunday while the Vikings sat idle. What could give the Bucs the upperhand in that fearsome foursome is the schedule – the Lions, Packers and Vikings all must come to Tampa's Raymond James Stadium in December and…

Wait, wait, wait! There we go, looking ahead. Sorry, coach. Before any teams come to the Bucs' home field, before December even rolls around, Tampa Bay must head across the country to take on the Seahawks in the Kingdome, considered one of the noisiest stadiums in the league. Tampa Bay's three-game winning streak has been more effective than artistic, as the team overcame a combined seven lost fumbles in wins over New Orleans and Kansas City and a lack of offensive production in the Atlanta victory. Playing on the road against one of the league's hottest teams, such obstacles may prove impossible to overcome. Dungy sees the trap in trying to continue to win 'ugly' in Seattle.

"They're playing solid football," said Dungy of the Seahawks in what is surely meant as high praise. They're not making many mistakes. They're letting the other teams beat themselves, getting ahead early in games and putting pressure on you to catch up. People are making mistakes against them and they're just playing sound fundamental football. They're kicking well, they're not turning the ball over, and other teams are turning it over against them. That's really it. Regardless of the stats, I think they're playing pretty efficiently. Sometimes those stats can be misleading; they've been ahead in games and they're not trying to throw the ball at the end to pile up yardage. The key for us is to not fall behind. That's why we can't have a first quarter like we had this past week."

One week after becoming just the fourth team this decade to commit six turnovers in a game and still win, the Bucs overcame an early 10-0 deficit to down the Falcons 19-10. CB Donnie Abraham had to pull down two fourth-quarter interceptions to ensure the victory. It marked the first time Tampa Bay has won a game in which it trailed by at least 10 points since October 18, 1998, a somewhat similar 16-13 win over the Carolina Panthers. It is not likely a coincidence that both of those comebacks occurred at home; the Seahawk crowd will not likely be as supportive of K Martin Gramatica if he has to try another game-saving 53-yard field goal this Sunday.

The Seahawks are 4-1 on their homefield this year and in first place in the ultra-competitive AFC West. The Buccaneers have already knocked off Kansas City and Denver this season, but neither of those teams can match Seattle's 8-2 record. In fact, the Buccaneers' three-game winning streak has occurred against a trio of teams that stand 9-21 overall. That is yet another fact that does not move Dungy.

"I think all that tells us is who has been on the schedule," said Dungy. "I think at the end of the year, we'll just see if we've got a good enough record to be in there. And if we didn't beat a team with a winning record along the way, we'll just say thanks for sending us all those losing teams."

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