Who are the 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Are they the team that put on gutsy and inspired performances against the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants? Or are they the team that gets smacked around by the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals?
Sure, the Bucs almost pulled off what would have been an amazing comeback against the Cardinals, but giving up 38 points is forcing an offense without its starting quarterback to do a lot more than it should.
Thankfully, Jameis Winston’s shoulder seems to be not terribly hurt or else this would be less of a call to action and more of a calling the season early. Winston was diagnosed with an AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder an injury that may be uncomfortable, but something he can play through.
Realistically, Winston’s playing is the only thing keeping the Bucs afloat right now. Completing 60.4% of his passes for 1259 yards and 7 touchdowns, with only 3 interceptions, Winston’s ability to keep the Bucs in games is how they beat the Giants and how they almost pulled off an upset against the New England Patriots.
The biggest harm to the team so far has been the defense.
32-year-old Adrian Peterson looked like his 25-year-old self against the Bucs for the Cardinals, running for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Backup Vikings quarterback Case Keenum torched the Bucs for 369 yards in the air and 3 touchdowns, without getting sacked or giving up an interception. The Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook, of Florida State fame, also torched the defense for 97 rushing yards and a touchdown.
This is the same defense that forced 2 fumbles and intercepted Mike Glennon twice against the Bears. The same defense that intercepted Tom Brady and sacked him three times. The same defense that held the Giants to 91 rushing yards total.
It’s easy to make excuses for this team. Key players have missed time with injury, Hurricane Irma postponed their season opener which threw their season into a 16 straight grind and the less said about the kicking the better.
It’s still too early to write the season off, but there will be some that will be more understanding if Tampa Bay misses the playoffs, especially since they’re stuck in a stacked NFC South.
The problem is this team has too much talent to not qualify for the playoffs. Before Irma, winning the division was an attainable goal. Playing 16 straight weeks without rest tempers expectations a little, but not enough that the team shouldn’t get a wild card spot.
So who is it going to be? The Bucs that get lit up and give away games easily, or the gutsy team that stayed with the Patriots and played with the skills that are so obviously there?