No. Not one bit. I think sometimes coaches like to fire up their team or fan base or even just get some publicity for their squad. But I don’t even think Raheem buys into it too much. Keep in mind Tampa just a week earlier got absolutely destroyed by the Saints. A few weeks before that the Steelers blew them out. Playing teams like the Steelers and the defending champs are the real litmus test that shows how you compare to the elite teams. In both cases the Bucs got annihilated in their own stadium. The Bucs are a promising young team, but let’s not get carried away. They may be towards the middle to top of the NFC pack, but even being the best team in the NFC only puts you around 5th or 6th in the NFL this season.
Yes. Absolutely, unequivocally yes. I was not sure about Freeman when the Bucs drafted him. I know a lot of fans weren’t. But on Sunday he will start his 16th game, pretty much marking the end of the first “season” he’s started (he took over mid-season last year). He won his first ever start against Green Bay and in his last nine starts he’s 6-3. It hasn’t been pretty all the time, but the guy is an absolute gamer. Four of his six wins are comeback performances including last weekend. He just has the “it” factor. He really comes alive with his back to the wall. He’s not there yet. He has a long way to go. But there are intangibles you just can’t teach or coach up and Freeman has them in droves. He’s the guy.
No it’s not a lack of interest it’s a financial issue. First of all Florida is amongst the hardest hit states in terms of the recession. That’s depressing but you can’t ignore that people have less money to spend and the Bucs are hardly the best deal in town these days. There was a time when the waiting list for season tickets was 8-10,000 strong. Now it’s non-existent. Beyond economics, the ownership is extremely unpopular and have very little concept of how to price during a recession. To a lesser extent, a huge part of Florida’s population is also transient or transplanted. Though the Bucs do enjoy a robust fan base of die-hards, a lot of other residents of the bay area still pull for their old teams or revert back when the going gets tough. And then also, and something that’s rarely stated is that the Tampa Bay area consists of three smaller cities that are extremely spread out (Tampa, St. Pete and Clearwater). There is no mass transit. It’s not like a million people live within a few miles of the stadium. It’s not easy to get there. I’ll give you an example. I grew up in the Tampa Bay area in Clearwater. I lived in blackout range but to get to the stadium involved an hour car trip there, you have to pay for parking, the tickets and concessions at any NFL stadium are already obscene, then you have to head back out, get on the highway and drive an hour home. That’s about two hours round trip. Forget drinking because you need to be on the interstate to get home (not that I condone drinking and driving if you don’t have to take the interstate either). Then in terms of incidental cost it’s at least 25 to park at Raymond James, you’ll probably need to fill up your gas tank and that’s before you even get in the gate. A lot of people just can’t afford to do that right now. I think sometimes people picture Tampa and they see a bunch of spoiled beach-goers. That’s not it at all, it’s not a lack of passion. A local blog here sells out at least a bus full of people to head down to Ft. Myers to watch every Bucs home game (out of the Blackout zone). Unfortunately, just not a lot of people can afford to make the trip to the stadium. It’s sad, but at least we’re not Jacksonville.
LeGarrette Blount has come on extremely quickly since arriving in Tampa. Now Cardinals fans may have heard of Blount, he’s famous for decking a Boise Bronco on the smurf turf last year. That really killed his draft stock, he ended up going undrafted and getting cut by the Titans before Tampa swooped him up. Since starting to get reps for the Bucs though he has been a revelation. He was the lone bright spot in the debacle against Pittsburgh and last week he infused life into, what had been up to that point in the season, an anemic running game. His stat-line against the Rams was 11 carries for 72 yards but he also had a couple 15 yard runs and a 46-yarder nixed on penalties. He’s a fun back, extremely blue-collar with a definite mean streak and the entire offense looks different when he’s in. Right now the Bucs are still using two backs, a large part of that is LeGarrette’s lack of familiarity with the blocking schemes and protections, but Blount’s role expands weekly and it won’t be long before he’s the starter.
I think the Bucs can eke out a close win, but if the game is decided by more than a touchdown it will go the way of the Cardinals. For the sake of predictions I’ll say Bucs win 21-20. On the year, Tampa has a very favorable schedule. Going 3-13 the year before does that for you. I think the Bucs can get up to 8 or 9 wins this season. But like I said before, being good in the NFC this year amounts to nothing. Ultimately I think they go 8-8, miss the playoffs and make more progress next season.