Bucs backing up coach's proclamation

Michael Silver
Yahoo! Sports

Almost exactly a year ago, as Raheem Morris prepared for the 11th game of his first season as an NFL head coach, I wondered whether he'd be one-and-done with the Buccaneers.

On Sunday afternoon, as Morris rode the team bus to the airport after a 21-0 shutout of the 49ers and looked ahead to the 11th game of his second season with the Bucs, I wondered whether he might be the NFL coach of the year.

Morris didn't want to hear about that, just as he didn't want to be asked about the Bucs' first shutout since 2004 or the fact that his much-maligned rushing defense limited Frank Gore(notes) to 23 yards on 12 carries.

"Stats are for losers," he said by phone after his team improved to 7-3. "The only thing we're trying to do is score one more point than our opponent."

Morris provided some 32Q-style amusement a few weeks ago after he proclaimed that Tampa Bay was the best team in the NFC. Given that the Bucs' victories have come against teams with a combined 17-53 record (if repeat victim Carolina's 1-9 mark is counted twice), there's still plenty of cause for skepticism.

That said, I've been keeping a closer eye on the Bucs, and I really like what I see: Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman(notes) is a future star who is already one of the game's clutch performers; players on both sides of the ball seem feisty and motivated and mutually supportive. That's got to be coaching, right?

I suspect Morris made that "best team in the NFC" comment more for his players' benefit than for the rest of ours, a theory I floated to him during our conversation.

"The only people we're concerned with are in our locker room," Morris replied. "Everybody else is gray matter to us. If someone has to be No. 1, why not us? We'll go out and compete with anybody."

Though the Bucs don't have any signature wins, they competed hard in a recent road defeat to the Falcons, and I commend them for not letting down against substandard teams. By contrast, that probably happened in reverse – at least earlier in the season, when the Bucs were still covered in the stench of last year's 3-13 finish.

"I don't know who took us lightly," Morris said. "I know we're becoming a team that's kind of impossible to ignore. That's what we want to be."

Lest we ignore the NFL's other fabulous franchises, here's the quizzical hierarchy that no one takes lightly:

1. New York Jets: How clutch is Mark Sanchez(notes) – and how much might that pay off for this team when it matters most?

2. New England Patriots: If James Sanders(notes) had guessed wrong on that Peyton Manning(notes) sideline pass with 31 seconds remaining in Sunday's game, how much humble pie would he have eaten before Thanksgiving?

3. Philadelphia Eagles: What was all that talk about defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's job being in jeopardy again?

4. Atlanta Falcons: Does this team have the league's best offensive line – and how many of you can name any of the five starters?

5. Green Bay Packers: In a twist on a local tradition, should the city of Green Bay start naming streets after the coaches who get fired after beat-downs by the Pack (and doesn't Singletary Lane have a nice ring to it)?

6. Baltimore Ravens: Does Derrick Mason(notes) need a Snickers, or what?

7. Pittsburgh Steelers: Is Mike Wallace(notes) already the NFL's most dangerous deep threat?

8. New Orleans Saints: Will Sean Payton finish off his Thanksgiving feast with a bottle of Caymus Special Selection, or will the Cowboys ram it down his throat like they did last December?

9. New York Giants: Do these guys need another verbal kick in the butt from Tiki Barber – and, for that matter, does Eli Manning(notes) need some ball-handling lessons from his ex-teammate?

10. Indianapolis Colts: Will their shaky running game – and leaky run defense – doom them in the end?

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will Ronde Barber(notes) someday join his jersey in Canton?

12. Chicago Bears: After baiting ex-Broncos teammate Brandon Marshall(notes) into a taunting penalty last Thursday night, is Jay Cutler(notes) storing material for next year's prospective meeting against Josh McDaniels and the Broncos?

13. San Diego Chargers: How good did Shaun Phillips(notes) look on Monday night – and how bummed is former pass-rushing partner Shawne Merriman(notes) that he's missing the party?

14. Kansas City Chiefs: Does Bowe know football?

15. Tennessee Titans: Will Jeff Fisher win his power struggle with Vince Young(notes) after the season – and can he possibly win with Rusty Smith(notes) in the meantime?

16. Oakland Raiders: If Richard Seymour's(notes) punch to the face of Ben Roethlisberger(notes) was a "natural reaction", could someone kindly remind me not to quickly run up on him in the Oakland locker room?

17. Miami Dolphins: Is Tony Sparano feeling the heat (and, for that matter, is he feeling The Heat?

18. Jacksonville Jaguars: Was that double-screen to Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) at the end of Sunday's game the single-biggest catch-and-run of 2010?

19. Washington Redskins: Will this season's highlight film be entitled "The Hurt Locker 2"?

20. Seattle Seahawks: Are the Seahawks in first place because of Pete Carroll's "uncommon" approach – or because of an uncommonly awful division?

21. Cleveland Browns: Will Jake Delhomme(notes) get the call against the Panthers – and is it possible to get "revenge" against a 1-9 team with Brian St. Pierre(notes), Jimmy Clausen(notes) and Tony Pike(notes) as its quarterbacks?

22. Dallas Cowboys: Do the people who view Jason Garrett's fast start as a sure-fire sign he'll get a permanent head-coaching gig remember that Jim Haslett also won his first two games as the Rams' interim coach two years ago – before losing his next 10?

23. Houston Texans: Given the atrocious state of his secondary and his tenuous job security, shouldn't Gary Kubiak go for the touchdown every time?

24. St. Louis Rams: When I watched Sam Bradford(notes) release that ill-fated pass near the Falcons' goal line last Sunday, why did I keep hearing Joe Pesci ask, "Where are the shovels?" in that classic "Goodfellas" scene?

25. Minnesota Vikings: Can Les clean up Chilly's mess?

Dawkins was unable to prevent Patrick Crayton(notes) from scoring in the second quarter.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PRESSWIRE)

26. Denver Broncos: Given what a warrior Brian Dawkins(notes) has been over the years, how painful was it to watch him flailing around at Qualcomm Monday night?

27. Detroit Lions: After that bogus (and pivotal) horse-collar call on Ndamukong Suh(notes) at Cowboys Stadium last Sunday, how badly did Jim Schwartz want to pull referee Carl Cheffers' hair?

28. Arizona Cardinals: When Ken Whisenhunt says his team hasn't regressed, is he lying, delusional or confusing "regressed" with "progressed"?

29. San Francisco 49ers: Is it time to try Justin Smith at quarterback?

30. Buffalo Bills: Am I the only one who finds Stevie Johnson's "Why so serious?" reference pretty damn hilarious?

31. Cincinnati Bengals: When taking off your sunglasses indoors is the way you illustrate how terrible your team is, doesn't that deserve an even stronger pejorative?

32. Carolina Panthers: What's more annoying for liberated stay-at-home dad Brian St. Pierre – listening to Wee-Sing CDs or being sidelined by muscle soreness after his first NFL start?

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