The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done something fairly remarkable. They have won three straight games after losing their first eight.
And the fact that they have done it cloaked in controversy — from the MRSA outbreak, to the Josh Freeman madness, and with reports that players were unhappy with the coaches — has made it all the more remarkable.
Certainly, pride and professionalism are at stake here. Some players play hard because they love what they do, know how tenuous an NFL career can be and because they are paid large sums of money to do so.
But is it possible that the Bucs are playing hard for the embattled Greg Schiano because — perish the thought — they like him as a coach? And that they want him back?
Sunday's victory on the road over the Detroit Lions was the Bucs' greatest achievement this season. The defense forced five turnovers and had to finish the game without Darrelle Revis covering Calvin Johnson, and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon continued his coming-of-age season with another commendable performance in a tough environment.
So is this recent flourish an aberration? Or a sign that the team really is responding to Schiano?
Better yet, what does it mean? It might not matter what we think, on the outside looking in. The decision to keep Schiano will come from ownership and the front office, and the words of Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer are darned telling.
“I think it's tremendous,'' co-chairman Joel Glazer told the Tampa Tribune. “The guys are hanging in there and fighting to the end. I think that speaks volumes about Greg. [These are] tough times, but the team has never doubted him in the locker room.”
A stunningly strong endorsement for a coach that not long ago should have been advised by his realtor to start sprucing his pad up for future showings.
More work is needed. Three wins do not a season make, no matter the circumstances. And even if you're of the this-too-shall-pass bent, you must ask if Schiano's achievement, as we stand here today, trumps the failings of the first eight games. the Bucs remain an afterthought in contention, even after beating a decent team on the road.
Is he the coach the Glazers really want? A month ago, there were "Fire Schiano" billboards adorning much of the Tampa region. The owners must ask themselves if they are prepared to live another year (or longer) with Schiano's abrasive style, which seemed to anger and alienate many Bucs players through the losing streak, and hope that this recent streak is more emblematic of the coach is more than the losing has been.
The remaining five games could hold Schiano's fate. If they win out, we're talking about an 8-8 team and wondering what might have been. If they go 2-3 or 3-2, we're still talking about a team with a losing record in a season in which the Atlanta Falcons shockingly fell from grace in the crowded NFC South. But lose four or five, and we know what happens.
But what happened in the first eight games might be as important, or perhaps more so, than the second half of the season. Let the Bucs not forget that.
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