We’re entering week eight of the 2014 regular season, which means that it’s just about halftime. I don’t think you need me to tell you that we played a sloppy first half. We’ve now been blown out twice, have one win, and have come extremely close to two other wins. We can play the “Bucs are inches from 3-2” game all day, but the fact is that they’re 1-5. Not only are the Bucs scarred, they’re walking around with two black eyes. All of our previous games have been key, but as the season progresses, they’re getting more and more important. Coming off a bye week, this matchup against the Minnesota Vikings is more critical than any other game so far.
Following the win against Pittsburgh, Lovie Smith talked about the importance of momentum. That momentum definitely carried over into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where we went toe to toe with the Saints. Mike Glennon looked like, well… like a better Mike Glennon. Unfortunately, the momentum wasn’t enough to overcome critical mistakes that eventually led to the overtime loss against New Orleans. The problem with momentum is that it hasn’t been behind us for most of the season. If it helps coming off a win, it definitely hurts coming off a loss.
This week is the season’s momentum anomaly, as the Buccaneers are getting back into the action following a bye week. In six of the last seven seasons, the Buccaneers have won the game immediately following their bye week. Though the loss came just last season, the majority rules in favor of our odds. On top of that, injuries have plagued the Buccaneers all season. Varying injuries have caused the loss or lessened play of Mike Evans, Gerald McCoy, Mason Foster, Josh McCown, Jonathan Casillas, Johnthan Banks, Will Gholston, Michael Johnson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Charles Sims, Doug Martin, Adrian Clayborn, Rashaan Melvin, Bradley McDougald, Jeff Tedford, Mike James, Louis Murphy, Vincent Jackson, Logan Mankins, and I’m sure someone else I’m forgetting.
Anyone else think that list looks absolutely absurd? I’m all for “next man up” and “everyone has injuries,” but you can’t deny the impact that has had. There’s a reason that depth players aren’t starters. Looking at the way the defense got torched against Baltimore and Atlanta will make that crystal clear. The only thing that solves the problem of injuries, aside from the perceived fix of picking up free agents like hits of crack cocaine, is time.
Time is a precious commodity in this league, especially when you’re a new coach dealing with a team that was depleted when you arrived and a fanbase that’s about as impatient as they come. Players that have still been playing injured, such as Michael Johnson, Gerald McCoy, and Vincent Jackson, are likely very thankful that this bye week has already arrived. Johnson has been playing on a hurt ankle all season, and due to that we’ve seen only glimpses of the ability that brought him into Tampa. Meanwhile, we’ve been left to wonder if Jackson’s lingering wrist injury has led to his sudden infatuation with dropping passes.
I doubt that the bye week will bring everyone back to 100%, but it’s got to help from that perspective. Rest is critical, and this week finally rewarded the team with some. On top of rest, the bye week offers the Buccaneers a chance to get down to business and do some studying. Our good friend Steve White (@sgw94) wrote an excellent article on SBNation breaking down specific mistakes where players simply aren’t doing their jobs like they should. I have to believe that the coaching staff will be spending ample time hitting on those mental errors while players are resting their bodies this week.
I don’t think the Buccaneers will come out in this game and be perfect. There are too many issues for it to get fixed that quickly. They don’t need perfection though, not this week. In future weeks, there are games where a minimum of errors and maximum of forced turnovers and big plays will be required to stand a chance. This week, the Buccaneers face the hapless Minnesota Vikings at home in Raymond James Stadium.
The Vikings have shown flashes of ability, but are looking progressively more hopeless. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is slowly getting the feel for this whole professional instead of college thing. I think Bridgewater could be a very good quarterback in time, but he’s not there yet. Even if he were there yet, his offensive line might be the only one in the league that’s worse than ours. You can bet money that Gerald McCoy is getting the boys fired up to victimize the Vikings line, and subsequently Teddy Bridgewater himself.
Despite offensive line problems, an inconsistent and progressively less effective rushing attack, and wide receiver issues (sound familiar?), the Vikings defense has actually kept them in games that they didn’t deserve to still have a chance at winning. That defense will be a challenge, even for our rested wide receivers. As for the running game, the Buccaneers offensive line has to actually do their jobs and drag the running game back from the hole it was recently buried in.
If the Buccaneers defense can just keep the Vikings offense from using us as a scapegoat to prove they aren’t completely inept, and create turnovers that the offense actually capitalizes on, the Buccaneers can absolutely win this game. Even if the Buccaneers still show some flaws and make some (only some) mistakes, this is a very manageable opponent. I anticipate they’ll still have some struggles coming off the bye, but this is a huge opportunity to make a statement and gain some coveted momentum en route to Cleveland in week nine.
Prediction: 23-16, Bucs win