Bucs Prove Mettle With Title
Had those of the Buccaneer tie been asked if they would be satisfied this season with a 9-5 record with games left against San Francisco and Carolina, and an NFC South championship a fact, there would have been no ‘nay’ responses. None.

Or, that at this point in this season when such an unlikely circumstance is fact, the quarterback in this stretch drive was going to be Jeff Garcia, no youngster, the star running back would be Earnest Graham out of Florida for some time, amidst a lineup of no All-Pro stars, but repeated team efforts to make the playoffs, as these Bucs have produced… nah, not a likely scenario.

If last year’s Bucs weren’t much, how could this edition be much better, for it would depend on the quarterback efforts of several, and, frankly, just dandy coaching plans and productions by Jon Gruden and his staff, working well with general manager (and talent man) Bruce Allen - well, it wouldn’t be easy.

And it wasn’t easy, none of it, and there just wasn’t much to suggest that the Buccaneers ‘07 would be as productive, as successful, as they have been. I mean, Buc fans out there sat through such tough times, through an 0-26 start, but the Bucs are champs again, headed for the NFL playoffs and who’s to say they aren’t, or will be, as good as the others in these playoffs ahead. These Bucs Gruden and associates have coached into the playoffs are there in good standing.

They got there this time by soundly whipping Sunday at Raymond James an Atlanta team that that was downspiraling already, 37-3. That score is correct and the game wasn’t even that close. The Falcons grew leaderless this week past. They could not have figured to win. They could be figured to louse up early and later, to fumble, to throw interceptions. The Bucs now responding well to the coaching and manners of Gruden — conservative but not to a fault — could have played worse than they did Sunday and still won.

The Falcons are hurting, morally and and actively, on the field. They aren’t very good. Were worse than that Sunday at RJS. They’ve got to go farther down before they rebound. Yes, the Bucs will play the Falcons twice again next year. Arkansas, now the latest home, I guess, of the last Atlanta coach, has taken Bobby Petrino off the streets and onto their sidelines, for now anyway. Atlanta has a lot of work to do, with its head coach and quarterback, dog trainer Michael Vick, gone. Atlanta did not deserve what their star, Vick, and their coach, Petrino did to them.

But, they did it and it is an Atlanta problem, not one of Gruden’s or the Bucs’, who are going to be fun to watch as Gruden and his staff get this longshot team ready for the tough traffic ahead in the playoffs.

The Bucs made it and made it in a season so well orchestrated by the Gruden staff, none more important than Monte Kiffin of the defense, the special teams work of Richard Bisaccia and quarterback guidance Paul Hackett brought to One Bucco Place this year when so many of those hopefuls have been taught effectively. This is a far better Buc team than when it all began last summer and is there a better proof of coaching than improvement? Think not.

So what we have here is a Buc team improved over by the staff to make this club genuine threats as these unpredictable playoffs begin soon. But Gruden and associates still have time to make the club better in the two preparatory games ahead, San Francisco and Carolina.

The Bucs have to have their possible playoff foes nervous and fidgeting. Their whole club is well-rounded, now. Did not mention that punter Josh Bidwell and FG guy Matt Bryant got three for three on field goals Sunday.

Don’t see a glaring weakness, unless it may be in depth at running back. Could use more bodies there. Wideouts are just dandy, as is the defense from top to bottom, with old studs Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and safety Jermaine Phillips tough, tough, tough.

Cannot say enough - Gruden has molded this team well. Anyone who may wonder if he is a solid coach, well, he surely is and clearly has an eye for those who surround him on his staff. The Bucs played as solidly as a playoff-bound team should Sunday, and the results simply have to be gratifying to the coach who can stare you down — if he chooses.

Tom McEwen, The Tampa Tribune 17 December 2007