Warrick Dunn and the Bucs practiced hard and looked sharp on Wednesday
Maybe it was the weather.
As the long spell of hot and muggy days in Tampa finally broke (for now, anyway), there seemed to be a belief that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' losing streak would also snap in short order.
On Wednesday, the Buccaneers practiced for the first time since losing their third consecutive game, a 30-23 heartbreaker on Monday Night Football in Minnesota. It was the third consecutive narrow defeat for a team that had started off the season 3-0. If there was a thought that the team would need a good part of its current bye week to recover from that sting, that thought changed on Wednesday thanks to a very sharp and upbeat workout.
"I think they need to get away and get the bad taste out of their mouth," said Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel. "But after today's practice, I can tell they've probably already done that. I was really impressed with their zip and their execution. No one wants to be 3-3, but the good news is we've got 10 games to go and I think the tougher part of our schedule, people can say, is over. But every game every week is a tough game."
On the field, Special Teams Coach Joe Marciano, a stern taskmaster during practice, was visibly pleased with the Bucs' execution during his portion of practice. After working primarily on punt coverage during the special teams session, the team moved on to seven-on-seven and team drills. Each step of the way, the players were focused and intense.
Head Coach Tony Dungy was hoping for this type of attention as he returned his team to a study of the basics. The Bucs won't begin serious game-planning for the Lions until Sunday.
"Actually, I think this was a good day for us, to really not have a game plan that we're concerned about," said Dungy. "Just getting back to doing what we do, offensively, defensively and special teams, and work on some fundamental football. I thought it was a good day of work."
The mood was improving because the team believes this type of effort in practice is the key to getting back in the win column. As has been the case in each of the past two seasons, the Bucs expect to shake off these early season difficulties and put together a long winning streak.
"What we have to do is get back to playing winning football," said Dungy. "That means a lot of different things, but it means concentrating, doing our job and playing every play and every practice as if it's important. I think if we do that, we've proven in the past that we can play winning football. We've got a good shot to do that.
"I'm hopeful that we will all look at what we can do to get a little bit better and play a little sharper, and that we'll come back and play sharp and get on a winning streak. I feel like that's what we can do. We're capable of it. That's what we've done in the past in these situations."
A fairly sizeable group of players did not participate in practice on Wednesday, although they were on the sidelines staying in touch. That group included QB Shaun King, CB Ronde Barber, S Damien Robinson, WR Karl Williams, DE John McLaughlin, S Eric Vance, LB Jamie Duncan and DE Steve White. That includes some of the team's core players, but there is no need for panic.
The Buccaneers are in a bye week and won't begin preparing for the Detroit Lions until Sunday. For the group above, part of the week will be used to rest minor ailments, such as King's sore back and McLaughlin's gimpy ankle.
"We had guys that, if they weren't healthy and ready to go, we were going to hold them out," said Dungy. "Obviously, we're not preparing for a game. We've got a few guys that, had it been game week, could have practiced but didn't. Ronde Barber, John McLaughlin, Shaun King, Damien Robinson, Jamie Duncan…guys that we're hoping to get rested up and get healthy for Sunday when we practice for Detroit."
There will be no official midweek injury report due to the bye, but Williams is the only one of that group above that appears to be in danger of missing the Lions game.
The Bucs' bye week is sandwiched somewhat unusually between a Monday night game and a Thursday night game. That actually shortens up the amount of free time that can be allotted, although it all comes out even in the wash.
"We'll just split it up," said Dungy. "They'll get them back at the end, after the Thursday game. That gives you the same amount of time off, it's just split up into two different weeks."
Though his perspective might differ from that of the players, Dungy actually likes the way the schedule has fallen around the team's bye. "I think it's probably the best way to do it," he said. "Having had to play on Monday night, getting this week off is much better for you than coming back and playing on Sunday. You basically almost have two mini-byes, and if you win it's a pretty good deal."
As for the timing of the bye in relation to the date in the schedule, Dungy was less convinced that it had come at a good time.
"It's hard to say," he said. "Anytime you lose, you'd always like to get right back out and play. But it gives us a chance to get rested up after the Monday night game and a couple of physical games. We'll get some people back healthier, so I think that will be a plus."
The Buccaneers will practice again on Thursday morning before giving the players Friday and Saturday off. The whole team reconvenes at One Buccaneer place on Sunday for what would typically be Wednesday's schedule.