The 2016 season will not end the way anyone with the Buccaneers hoped it would. It will end the way most objective observes thought it would, but the Bucs will not realize their goal of making the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
That doesn’t mean 2016 should go down as a disappointing season.
Despite their 8-5 start and all the promise of the playoffs that came from it the Bucs could lose for the third time in the last quarter of the season on Sunday, finish 8-8 and still have reason to feel good about what they accomplished this year and where they could go next year.
Think about it. The Bucs stumbled out of the blocks once again this year, losing three of their first four just as they did last year, and stood at 3-5 at the midway point in the season.
From there, though, they battled back into playoff contention by winning five straight and gave Dallas, the best team in the NFC, a good battle on the road before all but mathematically falling out of the playoff race.
You don’t do that, especially with a first-year coach, a first-year defensive coordinator and a second-year quarterback who won’t turn 23 until after the season if you’re not making some progress.
That at least is how five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy feels, and he says that no matter how this season ends, it still feels as if the Bucs are on an upward trend.
“I was a part of something similar to this (in 2012 when the Bucs started 6-4 under then first-year coach Greg Schiano after going 4-12 the year before) but I don’t think it was like this,’’ McCoy said. “This has been special this year.
“I think we’re finally turning that page. We’re still (experiencing some) growing pains, but we can build off of this. I think everything is just going to keep going up, and it’s been fun. It’s positive and it’s exciting to see what’s to come.’’
What’s to come will surely include some changes. The Bucs are hardly a finished product and there are areas of the team on both sides of the ball that need to be addressed.
For starters, the offensive line may need to be tweaked a bit, both in the middle and on the outside at at least one of the tackle spots, and the state of the running game is suddenly in flux as well.
On defense, the safety position is still a little weak and the Bucs still can’t seem to generate a consistent pass rush or, as we saw last Saturday in New Orleans, stop the run when they really need to.
The core of this team is solid, though. The Bucs are strong and getting better at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive tackle, middle linebacker and cornerback. That’s a good start.
The Bucs also appear to have solved the problems they’ve had with their punter and they have two of the best gunners in the league, something that is often overlooked but never should be taken for granted.
It’s no wonder then that after years of struggling just to keep his head above water, McCoy believes he sees a light at the end of the tunnel that he hasn’t seen before.
“Hey, we have a chance to finish with a winning record,’’ McCoy pointed out. “Who doesn’t want to do that?’’
It’s a start.