You wouldn't believe it unless you saw them assemble the thing Sunday at Tampa Stadium.
They constructed it by loading up a workhorse running back 40 times, his confidence building. Big, sweaty men held together by tape nailed it down with a heroic drive in the final seconds of the game against the Washington Redskins.
What the Buccaneers were so busy putting together was a winning streak.
Rookie Errict Rhett rushed for a career-high 192 yards and carried the team on his back on a game-winning 80-yard drive, capped by Craig Erickson's quarterback sneak for a touchdown with 32 seconds left in the Bucs' 26-21 victory over the Redskins.
It was the second-best rushing performance in team history, surpassed only by James Wilder's 219 yards against Minnesota in 1983. And it was the second straight win for the Bucs (4-9), who had not won successive games since the first two Sam Wyche coached for Tampa Bay, at the start of the '92 season. They have not won three straight since the end of the 1982 season.
And with two of their final three games at home and a rematch with the Redskins at Washington in two weeks, the Bucs are talking about running the table.
"It's great to win back-to-back games. I can't recall the last time they did it here," said Bucs safety Thomas Everett, who is used to winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. "We've done it. Guys are playing their butts off. We could've just as easily rolled over and cashed the season out. But we're not doing that. We're playing good football right now."
Nobody is playing better than the hard-running, tongue-wagging Rhett, who turned in his third 100-yard game in four weeks.
The Redskins couldn't shut him down or shut him up.
Rhett's running enabled the Bucs to overcome a 21-17 fourth-quarter deficit by marching 80 yards in 11 plays. And the harder Rhett ran, the harder he talked.
"He's running hard," guard Ian Beckles said. "And it doesn't matter how much you talk when you're running that hard."
Meanwhile, the Bucs' defense made a little noise of its own.
Tampa Bay sacked rookie quarterback Heath Shuler three times and held the Redskins to 10 yards rushing, the lowest total ever by a Washington team.
But it was the defense that nearly blew this game, allowing Shuler to connect on first-half touchdown bombs of 81 yards to former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard and 77 yards to Olanda Truitt.
Those two scores, combined with a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown by Washington linebacker Andre Collins, left the Bucs trailing 21-17 at halftime despite having dominated every phase of the game.
Other than Shuler's touchdown bombs, the Redskins had 9 yards of offense in the first half. They went to the locker room trailing in first downs 16-2 and in time of possession 24:20 to 5:40.
"The one thing you have to worry about in that situation is the team saying: `What else do we have to do? We can't play any better than this,' " Wyche said.
"The defense won the game for us. They just kept constantly giving us another turn. Now, they let those two bombs get in there. They get a spanking for that. But the rest of the time, they kept giving us the ball back."
The Redskins had a chance to put the game away, leading 21-17 in the fourth quarter and facing third and 5 at the Tampa Bay 22-yard line. Defensive end Eric Curry sacked Shuler and forced a fumble that Barney Bussey recovered. The play led to a 22-yard field goal by Michael Husted, who kicked a 53-yarder in the first quarter. The Bucs trailed 21-20.
Then came the heroic drive.
After Tampa Bay took over at its 20-yard line with 2:57 left, Erickson engineered a march that included Rhett's longest run of the day: a 23-yard burst around left end that carried the Bucs well within field-goal range at the Washington 12 with 1:05 remaining.
Veteran Vince Workman gave the rookie from Florida a breather on the next play and carried to the 1-yard line. From there, the Bucs considered downing the ball and forcing the Redskins to use up their timeouts. "We talked about taking a knee and letting the clock go to 10 seconds and kicking a field goal," Erickson said. "I gave him scout's honor I wouldn't fumble. Besides, we'd have looked like idiots if they'd run the kickoff back."
Erickson, who completed 18 of 35 passes for 251 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, nearly was the goat.
His first pass on the game-winning drive hit safety Darryl Morrison square in the chest before he dropped it. Another pass was tipped by Collins before receiver Lawrence Dawsey made a circus catch for a first down.
But it was Rhett's running that saved the day.
"You wonder why he's running as hard, and I think it's because he's out to prove he should've been a first-rounder," center Tony Mayberry said. "He's trying to prove the guys wrong who said he wasn't and didn't pick him. A guy who's inspired like that with no secret but working hard, it's easy to block for him."
With 774 yards on the season, Rhett needs to average a little better than 75 yards in his last three games to rush for 1,000. Much of the credit belongs to the Bucs' rejuvenated offensive line, which has its first three-game sackless streak since 1979.
Speaking of streaks, Wyche managed to last another week without a couple that have been dogging him lately. Another loss means the 12th straight season the Bucs have dropped 10 or more. It would have been the 100th setback in Wyche's career, and he would have become the only coach in NFL history to lose 10 or more games for four consecutive seasons.
Wyche is sensitive to such things right now.
"There's a little group of fans - about 15 of them - who sit right behind our bench and can't wait for Jimmy Johnson to arrive," he said. "I wish maybe he could arrange a personal appearance. If we don't make a yard, they start to chant, and they're the ones that get to mocking and have kind of made life a little bit of un-fun for me of late."
Sunday's win was fun for Wyche and the Bucs.
"It's just a shame it happened this late," Everett said, "but we're playing well now."
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1994