Anything Is Possible, So Why Not The Bucs?
Why not the Bucs? There's no getting around the men who wore the white hats Sunday, proud owners of the NFC South and the single-best single-season turnaround in their franchise's 30 years of NFL football. From 5-11 to 11-5. Champs to chumps to champs.

Call them lucky. Say they're living right. There was more evidence Sunday. But live the Bucs do, and only 12 NFL teams can say that today. There are only five others in the NFC, and who's to say anyone has the jump on anyone else? "Anybody's game," Derrick Brooks said. "We're here," Ronde Barber said. "That's all we asked for. Give us a chance."

Why not the Bucs? They got it done Sunday, 27-13, though we applaud the Saints, who lived a season no team has ever lived. Sunday, they played on pride, something manic Jim Mora and his Falcons couldn't do. The Saints did. The Bucs did. And away we go.

A home playoff game against the Redskins on Saturday. Let the "Alstott Got In/No He Didn't" debate begin anew. The Bucs are in. Give them a chance.

We couldn't say that in the AFC. The Bucs might have finished 6-10 over there. But this is the NFC, where no one is scared by anyone. Maybe Chris Simms is too young to be scared. Anyway, the kid said something Sunday. The truth. "I think the NFC right now is up for grabs. We're totally aware that Seattle was the best team throughout the season. But I don't think anybody in our conference right now feels that one team is unbeatable, that anyone is invincible."

Seattle is formidable. The Bears have defense. Chicago hasn't won a postseason game in a decade. Seattle hasn't won one in two decades. Jon Gruden's Bucs won three of them in one season, the last in San Diego. Anything is possible. Anyone who says different should be drop-kicked through the uprights by Doug Flutie. The impossible has happened to the Bucs a lot this season. Sunday was no different. A pivotal Saints interception was wiped out when the ball hit the ground, a fact picked up by replay after a Bucs challenge. "We kind of threw the flag hoping the ball hit the ground," Gruden said.

There was Minnesota, two fourth-quarter Vikings touchdowns erased by penalties. There was reliable Packers kicker Ryan Longwell missing gimmes. Detroit's Marcus Pollard barely out of bounds on what would have been a Bucs beater. The Falcons game last week. Oh, and the Redskins, the Alstott call. Lucky?

Chris Simms turned it around. And reiterated the Bucs can beat anyone. "Without a doubt. I think you just look at it. The Bears got the 2 seed and a first-round bye. We're a 28-yard field goal away from being in their position. I don't know if we were lucky there. Because I think we were a little unlucky."

Whatever the Bucs are, they wore white hats Sunday. There haven't been playoffs here since 2002, but here they come, old faces and new faces, pulling as one. Guys too young to worry about pressure and guys who know what it takes in January. A potent mix. "We are not perfect," Gruden said. "But we'll play hard."

The Bucs can beat anybody. The Redskins are surging. It's cold in Chicago. Anybody can beat the Bucs. Brooks emphasized that. "Anyone on this team who doesn't think that way, I hope to have a conversation with them before Tuesday."

The playoffs are back. The conversation has begun. These guys are in it. And that's not luck. Why not the Bucs?

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 2 January 2006