TAMPA – Veteran Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers has a word of advice for all those fans who fear the Bucs season is over now that they’ve fallen to the bottom of the NFC South standings with a 2-4 record:
“What’s the panic about?’’ Ayers asked prior to taking the field for practice at One Buc Place on Wednesday. “I mean, that’s what fans do… but we’ve been here before. I’ve been here before – plenty of times.’’
Ayers isn’t kidding. He was part of the 2011 Broncos team that started out 2-5 but rallied to finish 8-8 and reach the playoffs, where the Broncos also won a game before being eliminated.
He was also part of the 2012 Broncos team that started 2-3 and finished 3-13 and was of course part of the 2016 Bucs team that started 3-5 and rallied to finish 9-7.
“I’ve also been (on a team that started) 6-0 and (then went) 2-8,’’ Ayers said of the 2009 Broncos team that he played for as an NFL rookie. “I mean, I’ve been through a lot of things in this game.
“So (our start) don’t faze me at all. I mean, it is what it is. We’re 2-4 and so we just have to play better. I know I have to play better. It’s just as simple as that.’’
Veteran safety T.J. Ward concurred with Ayers, adding that it’s way too soon to count the Bucs out of the playoff race, largely because they have yet to play their first game inside the NFC South division.
“That’s when you know what type of team you have and whether guys are going to fight – when things are at stake,’’ Ward said. “So we still have time to bounce back.
“And the good thing is, this (week’s) game (against Carolina) is a division game. We have an opportunity to be 1-0 in our division and be on top. So these (next couple of weeks) are very important weeks for us.’’
The Bucs face the 4-3 Panthers on Sunday and then take on the division-leading 4-2 Saints the following week. A win in both games would immediately alter the course of the Bucs season.
That said, the Bucs will have to play better as Ayers said, and on both sides of the ball but particularly on defense, to break their two-game losing streak. Ayers and Ward have no doubt that will happen.
“I personally feel like there’s nothing we can’t do,’’ Ayers said. “It’s not like this is an issue where there’s nothing the Bucs can do to fix this. We just have to pick our game up and stop beating ourselves.’’
Ward said playing division rivals will force the Bucs to be better. He said his experience is that these are the kinds of games in which teams find out how good they really are.
“I’ve been on teams where we knew we had a good defense,’’ he said. “But we didn’t really know how good we were until (we started playing the) division games and the games started to become really, really important and things were on the line.’’
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