They love to talk. But the Bucs are just done in the hype.
-Head Coach Bruce Arians hears, and is told routinely, that fans and media alike have referred to the Buccaneers as the best team in the NFC. After all, the Bucs have the whole package. The best rushing defense and third-best overall defense in the NFL. The third-ranked scoring offense, while giving up the second-least sacks. The fourth-best turnover margin. Do I need to count it and count it again to make sure the numbers are right? (More lyrics, couldn't resist). But in all seriousness, can the team buy into that mentality? Does Coach Arians want them to?
"I think you embrace it because you're earning it," said Arians when asked. "But, it doesn't mean crap. You've got to show up in practice – we've had really good weeks of practice and a really good week this week. I think it's carrying over into ballgames. It just takes one [loss] and you're back in the toilet."
It's a results-driven business, to be sure. What have you done for me lately? That's the question that's usually asked or inferred. And the team knows that, too. They aren't ready to crown themselves any more than Arians is – and what's more – they think they can be even better.
"My honest truth – I think we can be better than what we are," said running back Leonard Fournette. "I think there's more work ahead of us to do, as a unit, to get better. I think the sky is the limit for this team."
Fournette has been battling an ankle injury the last few weeks. It's kept him from being a major factor in the ground game until this past week against the Raiders in Las Vegas where he split carries with running back Ronald Jones pretty evenly. Fournette at one point even felt he could get back in the game, but it was Arians who had the long-term perspective, which Fournette says was a first for him.
"The conversation – it was funny," Fournette recalled. "When I was outside warming up for the Packers game, Coach came out there and Coach was like, 'Are you at 100 percent?' I'm like, 'No, I'm at like 80 [percent].' He's like, 'I'm going to sit [you] down.' I'm like, 'What?' He's like, 'Yeah, we're going to need you for the long run,' which is understandable. I've never had a coach come to me and say that. That's why I'm saying it was kind of new to me. It shows his charisma [and] his character for his players and how he cares for them. That went a long way for me because he was the first coach to ever tell me that."
Another guy who knows a bit about injuries is outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who has worked his way back from what should have been career-ending injuries multiple times. After spending most of his career with the New York Giants, Pierre-Paul came to the Bucs in 2018 and was immediately faced with his former team that season. Only, he played the game hurt. Last season, the team played the Giants again, but this time, Pierre-Paul was out with one of those should-be career-ending injuries when he fractured his neck in a car accident. This time, he's going up to New York again and he's feeling good.
"This game definitely means something special to me," Pierre-Paul said in what was one of the most energetic media Zoom calls you'll ever see. "First game [as a Buccaneer against the Giants] I can recall I got hurt in the Saints game [before it]. We played them for the season opener [and I] got hurt. Played the Giants [after and I] was hurt with two MCLs. Then, the second game [against the Giants] they played the second season, I wasn't there. I broke my neck. I finally get to play them this year, I'm fully healed and I'm ready to go. I'm trying to see what I can do. I already know what I'm going to do, but I want to see what I can do."
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