CHARLOTTE, N.C. – If you’re still wondering how it is that coach Dirk Koetter can survive this disappointment of a season that the Buccaneers have put together, take a look back at Sunday’s game against the Panthers.
And not just at the final score, 22-19 Panthers.
This game marked the fourth time in as many weeks that the battered Bucs have gone toe-to-toe with a team fighting for the playoffs, and that’s where Koetter’s team differs from a lot of those that preceded him.
When Raheem Morris coached what proved to be his last game for the Bucs, it was clear the team he was leading had quit on him, despite the fact he’d led them to a 10-win season the year before.
Even at the end of the Jon Gruden era, which ended with the Bucs losing four straight games to fall out of the playoff race in 2008, there was a sense the team had plateaued.
That is certainly not the feeling you get with this Bucs team.
Though it has certainly underachieved, this Bucs team is still one of the most talented the Bucs have ever put together and most of that talent is young and inexperienced, if not untapped.
On Sunday, for example, it was the likes of Chris Godwin filling in for an injured DeSean Jackson, and fellow wideouts Freddy Martino and Bobo Wilson who made some of the biggest plays.
Godwin caught a 70-yard pass to set up one score; Wilson caught the Bucs only touchdown pass and Martino caught a couple of key passes to set up a tack-on field goal that extended a fourth-quarter Bucs lead to 19-15.
The Bucs defense, meanwhile, put together one of its better efforts of the season, limiting the Panthers to one third-down conversion and 78 yards of offense through the first half.
That’s not the sign of a team that has quit on its coach, and when you consider that the team was missing more than a dozen starters, that’s an indication this team has room to grow.
The question, of course, is whether the Glazers believe it can continue to grow with Koetter at the helm. After all, the Bucs are still far too mistake-prone and they still struggle to finish drives on offense.
Despite all the injuries they’ve suffered through, though, they have grown in the last month into a competitive football team, which is what they were expected to be all along.
No, the Bucs haven’t won as consistently as many thought they would, but they’ve proven the last month they can indeed hang with some of the best in the league.
That’s a big step in the right direction and the best way to keep them heading in that direction would be to keep the coach that got them headed there in the first place.
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