QB Jeff Garcia and Head Coach Jon Gruden think the Buccaneers are poised to come out of the bye week on a roll
Momentum can be a fickle thing, changing sides multiple times over the course of a season or game, or even a single possession.
After taking a week off to rest their tired bodies and minds, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now tasked with keeping hold of the positive forces that were created by a tense, come-from-behind victory in Kansas City two Sundays ago and translating them into some second-half success.
Just how difficult will that be? After getting away from football for a few days to relax, recover and recharge the batteries, and with a tough Minnesota team next up on the schedule, can the Bucs step right back into things and resume their winning ways?
Recent history says they can.
Since Head Coach Jon Gruden joined the team in 2002, the Bucs have won three division titles, in 2002, 2005 and 2007. In two of those three seasons, '02 and '07, the Bucs were blessed with the latest possible bye, Week 10, just like they were this year.
Furthermore, in both of those seasons with late-year bye weeks, the Bucs won the game immediately preceding and immediately following the off week.
If those trends mean anything, one hopes it is this: That a late-season bye, coupled with momentum coming into and out of that week off, could equal a date with the postseason.
The Bucs already have two of those three factors in the bag; a win over the Vikings this Sunday would be the third. This may be a bit of an oversimplification; obviously, there are many more issues that come into play when discussing a team's playoff chances than when the bye week falls. But the Bucs are aware of how important their win over the Chiefs was and how critical it will be to keep that momentum rolling once they return to the field.
Gruden conceded that the Kansas City game, and how the team builds off of it, could be a turning point for a team chasing postseason goals.
"It might be," he said. "We've still got a lot of work to do with seven games left. It's just encouraging to know that we could come from behind and win. It's a collective effort. I think our team believes in one another. It's just a huge win, no matter how you look at it."
Added rookie running back Clifton Smith, just before he and his teammates vacated One Buccaneer Place last week: "That was huge. If that game wouldn't have turned out the way we wanted it to, it would have been a grind over the bye week. Now we've got the win under our belt and everybody can relax, get healthy and come back ready to roll."
The late bye week comes at an opportune time in 2008. With a number of injuries at multiple positions on the roster – fullback, running back and wide receiver, to name a few – a week of rest could be extremely beneficial.
"It's going to help us," said Gruden. "Obviously our running back situation in particular is very concerning to us – both fullbacks, both halfbacks [are injured]. Carnell Williams will get a chance to work in the [bye] week a little bit more and we'll determine his progress [this] week. But we've got a number of guys that are nicked up and guys that we need back. Hopefully the bye week will help us."
As important as it will be to heal up their bodies, the Bucs will also have a chance to rest weary minds that have been stressed to the max with game plans, playbooks and visions of upcoming opponents. Just as they'll need to come back with their bodies at full strength for the stretch run, keeping a positive, vigorous attitude will be key as the team returns from their time off.
A trip to the playoffs may depend on it.
"You always talk about a letdown going into the bye week," quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "Not to say that we didn't approach [that] game right, but Kansas City, I tip my hat off to them and how they came out and battled. They played good football for a majority of the game, but to come back and win that one, I think it's going to be hopefully a huge momentum builder for ourselves.
"We've had a good first half of the season. Now we can heal up over [the bye week] and come back hungry and excited about what's left to face in the second part of the season."