Head Coach Tony Dungy thinks his team remains focused on its playoff goal
It is only Monday at One Buccaneer Place, but the pain of Sunday's decisive loss to the Oakland Raiders has already faded considerably. It isn't time, necessarily that has healed the Bucs' wounds, but good fortune.
Here's why. Although the Bucs lost by a healthy margin, they still gain only one mark in the 'loss' column, the same number earned on Sunday by Detroit, Washington, Dallas and the New York Giants. Green Bay and Minnesota play tonight, guaranteeing a loss for one of those two teams or, rather doubtfully, a tie for both. So the Buccaneers woke up on Monday in the same position they were in the previous Monday morning: one game up in the NFC Central and needing just one win to make the playoffs. Should the final two games of the regular season go as the Bucs had planned, the loss in Oakland will soon be nothing but a memory.
Head Coach Tony Dungy was asked on Monday if his team, or any team in the Bucs position, would need such a loss to refocus. "Hopefully not," said Dungy. "But if that is the case and we got the message, and it really didn't cost us that much, then it is a good lesson to learn. It's the same way with your kids: you know you have some lessons that are real hard and some that cost a lot. This one here, maybe it will only cost us a little bit of pride, if we come back and win the last two like we hope to."
Dungy wants his team to put the game behind them, if not the memory of it. "I hope we don't forget about it," he said. "I hope we realize that we're part of the worst loss in franchise history, and maybe that will spur us on the last two weeks. No, it's not easy to forget when you lose like that."
Dungy thinks the Bucs should recall "not necessarily the pain, but the feeling when you're not ready to go for whatever reason, and you go out there and don't play your best and the whole country gets to see it. And the whole country gets to ask you what's wrong, like today. That's what you want to remember so you don't have to go through this again."
The Bucs' coach stopped short of agreeing that such a loss could be ultimately healthy for a team in Super Bowl contention, but he does think it can now be used as a positive. "To go out and win week after week after week takes a little bit of maturity," he said. "We won six times and we needed a seventh one, but we didn't get it, so we'll have to start another streak. And I think it will be easier coming off a loss, in that we'll have our concentration, we'll know what's at stake and we'll know how we have to prepare."
The NFL updated its playoff scenarios on Monday and will do so again on Tuesday after tonight's game between the Packers and Vikings in Minneapolis. Currently, the Bucs can not only clinch a playoff spot with a win but can also swipe the NFC Central title with a win against Green Bay coupled with both a Detroit loss and a Minnesota loss. A loss by the Vikings on Monday would qualify as the last part of that formula.
Of course, the key element in that formula for the Buccaneers is next Sunday's game against Green Bay. The Packers will be either 8-6 or 7-7 coming into the contest, pending Monday's result. If they are able to get past the Vikings, the Packers would then be coming to Raymond James Stadium with a shot at grabbing a share of the division lead. They will surely be well-prepared for that goal, so the Buccaneers will need to rebound sharply from their effort in Oakland.
They could use the Raiders' own situation as an example. Oakland was desperate for a victory on Sunday after a loss to the Tennessee Titans 10 days earlier had put them on the very fringes of the AFC Wild Card chase. "You have to give (the Raiders) credit," said Dungy. "They lost a game they didn't feel like they should have lost in Tennessee and they came back and did something about it. I think we have to take a cue from them and see if we can do the same thing."
Dungy is sure his team will have the necessary focus, without any lingering worries over Sunday's game. "We're disappointed in our play," he said. "But I think if we had started the season and somebody said that, going into Week 15, we'd be a game ahead of everybody, we would have taken that. We didn't play as well as we wanted to, but we know we've got a chance again to lock up a playoff berth at home. That's got to be our focus."