Link to Bucs' glorious past ignites hopeful start for present
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 13 September 2010

Late in the first half of Sunday's opening game, it seemed the thousands of people not at Raymond James Stadium were the lucky ones. With the TV blackout and everything, they couldn't see that the new Buccaneers looked an awful lot like the old Bucs, and I don't mean of championship yore.

They were down 11 to the Cleveland Browns, generally regarded a lightweight, and what passed for a crowd at Raymond James Stadium was lapsing into indifference. The game was slipping away. Cleveland was playing confidently. There were a lot of empty seats. It was hot.

With storm clouds beginning to form in the distance, you could sense a stampede to the nearest mall was about to occur. But then like so many times before, the old man was in the right place at the right time.

Thirty-five-year-old Ronde Barber picked off a pass and returned it 64 yards. Not so long ago, he would have taken it all the way for a score and this time it looked like he needed to pause for oxygen before being knocked out of bounds at the 3-yard line, but so what? "I'm not a young man anymore," he said in mock protest afterward. "It was a hot day."

Never mind all that because the interception changed everything. It set the Bucs up for a touchdown with 26 seconds left in the half and the lifeless suddenly had life. The new Bucs defense played the rest of the way just like the old Bucs defense, and I mean that in a good way. "Who else would it be but Ronde?" safety Tanard Jackson said.

The eventual 17-14 Bucs victory was made possible because of the tone set by the defense, and that tone was set once the 14-year veteran at cornerback made the play of the game. "It was a game-changer," center Jeff Faine said. "We came into the locker room with some momentum. Up until then, all of the momentum had been on their side of the ball."

You could see the difference. Well, I should rephrase that. You could have seen the difference if the NFL's television blackout policy crafted in an age where every set had rabbit ears and the league got about 10 bucks for TV rights had kept up with the times.

It's just silly. Instead of a three-hour commercial that ended happily for the home team, potential ticket-buyers were kept in the dark. They missed a pretty good show.

The Bucs needed nine games last year to get their first win but there will be no such albatross this time around. They've been saying all summer how much things have changed at One Buc, and especially how much different the defense would look. Now they have proof.

"We believe in ourselves, regardless of the opponent," Barber said. "If we give ourselves opportunities, we feel we can capitalize on them. We've got a lot of talented players on this team, a lot of guys who want to win, who are sick of losing. That showed in the second half."

Defense always has been the foundation of anything good for this franchise and it was that way again in this game. Cleveland didn't score in the final 35:42 and had just 138 total yards, including 17 on the ground, and four first downs in the second half.

It wasn't just the win; it was how it happened strong defense, just enough offense. The Bucs forced turnovers, made big plays. They came from behind. "We won a lot of games around here just like this," Barber said.

As the day wore on, you could sense something was different. The Bucs' confidence grew. Cleveland didn't seriously threaten. Last year it would have been the opposite. They would have lost a game like this. They would have given up more big plays, committed ill-timed penalties, or any of the many things that happen when bad teams find a way to lose. "The difference is, this year nobody blinks," Jackson said.

It's a start. "There's a culture in everything you do and losing can be a culture," Barber said. "We don't want that. We have to find a way to make winning our culture here, no matter the circumstances or no matter what comes your way. We have to find a way to win and we did that today."