What a season!
I refuse to perceive this season as anything but positive. Expectations were very low from the onset. A new head coach, a new defensive coordinator, a potential sophomore slump for the starting quarterback, and one of the most difficult schedules in the league indicated that things may not turn out very well in 2016.
Instead we got a five-game winning streak, a sweep of the defending division champs and Super Bowl participant Carolina Panthers, a four-game winning streak at home to cap off the season, our first winning record since 2010, and a handful of upsets. I’m happy.
Power Rankings: Playoff addition
Hall of Fame:: Gridiron Glory Exhibit hits paydirt
Winners and Losers:: Who came out on top to open up 2017?
Oh sure, we didn’t make the playoffs. Realistically, we weren’t going to do much damage in the post-season even if given the opportunity. The offense was just not ready for it. Jameis had some speed bumps the last few games and the offensive line was sputtering. Not to mention the Bucs lost their second best receiving threat in Cameron Brate. Mike Evans and Jacquizz Rodgers were the only legitimate weapons left. It was pretty evident of the struggling in week 17 against a terrible Carolina defensive backfield.
The way I’ve dealt with disappointing results to a season is the fact that only one team holds up the trophy in the end. It simply wasn’t our year. At some point, thirty-one teams have to deal with the pain of an eliminating loss.
Now for the future. We have the youngest quarterback in history to reach 8,000 yards. Jameis also set the record for most passing yards in his first two seasons in NFL history. The youngest wide-receiver in history to have back to back 1,000 yard seasons and only the fourth player to accomplish that feat with Mike Evans. A defense that was considered the best in the NFL by widely-respected analyst Cris Collinsworth during our five-game win streak. A tight end with the league-leading number of touchdown receptions in Cameron Brate. The fifth best linebacker in the league for tackles in Kwon Alexander. The list goes on and on.
The Bucs were 2-14 just two seasons ago. How dare any Buc fans be upset that we aren’t in the post-season and/or raising the Lombardi? Baby steps, people. Improvement was step one. Check. I can confidently say for the first time in a while that the future is the brightest it’s been in Tampa since the Super Bowl era. Pieces are finally coming together.
Just a few more additions to this roster in the upcoming months could push them over the edge. With a core of Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, Ali Marpet, Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Doug Martin(hopefully), Noah Spence, Robert Ayers, Kwon Alexander, Vernon Hargreaves, Brent Grimes, and surprisingly Keith Tandy, there isn’t a ton of work to be done. I would be confident in another solid wide receiver or two, safety, a running back to compete and inspire our core, a defensive end, and depth.
I have to admit I am nervous about the coaching staff. It seems almost inevitable at this point that Mike Smith will accept a head coaching position in the upcoming weeks. That may necessitate a new defensive scheme. Dirk Koetter also suggested he may be relieving himself of play-calling duties. Those are two major shake-ups to our consistency.
However, I am sure that they had planned Smith’s replacement way in advance. Jay Hayes was the defensive line coach for the Cincinnati Bengals before he assumed that same role with Tampa. He is a highly-respected coach in the league and I was surprised they let him go for what was a lateral move. Now it makes sense. I have a feeling that he was aware of the possible promotion the Bucs d-line gig would present. Thus why the Bengals allowed him to leave.
I also think that Dirk giving up play-calling duties could be a blessing in disguise. It is extremely difficult to juggle those tasks simultaneously with being a head coach. Now he can focus on the overall game plan, clock management, etc. while our offensive coordinator can focus specifically on the plays. An improvement on offense would be crucial!
2016 may be the beginning of something special in the bay. All signs point that direction. Don’t be discouraged by barely missing the playoffs. It just wasn’t our year.
Something tells me 2017 just might be……