Reality check: Race to 10 is within reach for Bucs
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 15 November 2010

The reality is 6-3. So what if 33 percent of the Bucs' wins have come against the one-win Carolina Panthers and one-foot-in-the-grave Coach John Fox, including 31-16 on Sunday?

So what if somebody named Goodson ran for 100 yards against them? So what if the only Carolina Panther to score a touchdown at Raymond James Stadium was recently picked up off Buffalo's practice squad?

So what if Jimmy Clausen was Carolina's quarterback and the home team couldn't put away the Panthers until very late, when there were about 167 people left in the stadium, a recurring theme this season?

The reality, and the mentality behind it, says 6-3. The reality is that the Race to 10 is for real. And the reality, after seeing the Bucs' offense roll Sunday, might not be that maybe they can make the playoffs. It's maybe they should.

Twist the reality it isn't difficult. There's the reality that says the Bucs are 0-3 against teams with winning records and their six wins have come against teams with a combined mark of 13-32. Does it matter right now?

Raheem Morris and the Bucs matter. "The only stat is wins," Barrett Ruud said.

Jeff Faine said: "It's our schedule. They say we're beating teams we're supposed to beat. Before the season, we weren't supposed to beat anybody."

Mike Williams said: "If they say we've beaten nobody, keep giving us nobody and we're going to keep getting wins."

I thought the Bucs would win five games this season. I'll shut up now. They're 6-3 and they're in it. They can go 4-3 the rest of the way. They can. Whether they will, well, we'll see.

Still, they could lose to what on paper seem their three toughest games left at Baltimore, Atlanta here, at New Orleans to finish the regular season and still win 10 games. Think about that.

This season has a clear pattern. When the Bucs play a team on their level, they might play down to that level for a while, even a long while, but they win. They don't lose. They might not have that big win yet. But they have six little ones, and that's big enough.

Next Sunday, the Bucs are in San Francisco, where they never win. After that, it's at Baltimore on Thanksgiving weekend, then here for Atlanta for the throwback game. If the Bucs can win two of those three games, they're in great shape for December. Go 1-2 and it's still tenable, 7-5 with four games to go. They can't go 0-3.

But Sunday was a game the Bucs couldn't lose, so they didn't. The defense kept Carolina in the game, but it never did surrender the lead. But the most encouraging thing is this Bucs offense.

It has come alive. Suddenly, there seem to be threats everywhere. At least there were Sunday, with LeGarrette Blount hitting the right holes, then making some of his own, thundering for 91 yards and flipping into a score, or Kellen Winslow's great grab for his first TD, or more Josh Freeman, Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams and Caddy Williams, 45 yards and gone. And there was John Gilmore, unchained. "It's fun," Morris said. "I have to be honest."

Another quality this season is these young Bucs excel at memory loss. They got trounced by the Steelers, but bounced back. They were pounded by the Saints, but rebounded. They lose to the Falcons, but came back Sunday and took care of business. "You got to bounce back," Morris said. "You can't have hangovers. This team is too young for hangovers."

Yes, the Panthers are awful, the worst offense in football. But we're getting down to simple math. "Wins are wins in this league," defensive tackle Roy Miller said.

"I don't think the light has clicked for us yet," Ruud said. "That's the best thing about being 6-3. We haven't played our best football yet."

So they didn't put the Panthers away until late. The good teams do that. Then again, the Giants lost to the one-win, coach-fired Cowboys on Sunday. And who says any of this has to be pretty? Have the 7-2 Jets looked pretty their past two wins? Admit it: The Race to 10 isn't quite so silly this morning. "It was a big joke for a while," Ruud said. "Now we have six."

Now they have six.