Playoffs Still Aren't Out Of The Picture For Bucs
Ira Kaufman, The Tampa Tribune, published 22 November 2004

After disposing of the hapless 49ers on Sunday, the Bucs turned their attention to an out-of-town scoreboard that proved quite accommodating. Losses by the Giants, Bears, Lions, Saints, Rams and Cardinals all worked to Tampa Bay's favor in the race to secure one of two NFC wild-card playoff spots. Green Bay's victory Sunday night kept the Bucs two games behind the wild-card lead.

The Bucs trounced San Francisco 35-3 to improve to 4-6, tying New Orleans for second place in the South behind the 8-2 Falcons, who could potentially wrap up the division title by the end of the month. Tampa Bay pulled within a game of 5-5 St. Louis and the Giants, and forged a tie with Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Arizona.

Only two of Tampa Bay's final six games (Falcons, Chargers) are against clubs with a winning record. ``You see the race,'' said Dwight Smith of the tightly bunched postseason chase. ``You see how many teams are 5-5. Of course we still have a chance.''

The Bucs have won three of four following a 1-5 start and they rebounded well from last week's emotional 24-14 setback at Atlanta, a division loss that dropped them to 3-6. Thirteen of the NFL's 168 playoff teams since 1990 were below .500 through nine games, including three clubs that started 3-6. The 1996 Jaguars finished 9-7 and reached the AFC Championship game despite a 3-6 getaway. ``We still feel we're in the hunt and we just need to keep digging,'' said Derrick Brooks, who had eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble Sunday.

Although a 9-7 record would appear to stamp any NFC club as a legitimate playoff contender, the Bucs are taking the approach they need to win out and finish 10-6. ``We can't do anything about the past,'' Monte Kiffin said of Tampa Bay's woeful start. ``I know we've lost six games, but I also know we haven't lost seven.''