As December looms, Bucs' margin for error suddenly minimal
For at least the past couple of weeks, Bucs coach Bruce Arians has stood at his virtual pulpit and sermonized on urgency, preaching a playoff mentality to his team. Today, his message has a visual aid: the NFC standings.

Suddenly, the Bucs' margin for error is tighter than the windows through which Tom Brady once steadily flung completions. "Very slim," Arians said after Monday night's 27-24 loss to the Rams. "This was a big one, and the next one's even bigger, so I think each and every one's going to be huge the rest of the way."

If the season ended today, the Bucs (7-4) would be the No. 6 seed in the NFC, a half-game up on Arizona (6-4). In the seven-team conference playoffs, Tampa Bay would be facing a trip to Green Bay on the postseason's opening weekend.

Whether that forecast is bleak or bright depends on one's outlook for the Bucs over the regular season's final five games. Up next: a home date Sunday against Kansas City (9-1), the reigning Super Bowl champs.

"We've got to get ready to play a great football team coming up," Brady said. "Nothing's been great to this point. We've had some good wins, had some tough losses. Everything's about one week here in the NFL, and we're going to have to go play really well against a great football team next week."

Another loss, and things could segue from dim to dire for Tampa Bay. After the Chiefs, the Bucs get a bye before hosting the Vikings (4-6), who had won three in a row before Sunday's home loss to Dallas. The Bucs' remaining three games - a home-and-home with Atlanta and a trip to Detroit - appear very navigable. Then again, so did Brady's final two-minute drive Monday night, but that ended with his second interception of the game.

"It's hard to lose an NFC game, and we've just got to bounce back," safety Jordan Whitehead said. "We've got another tough one next week. We've got to learn from this. Nobody's quitting. We're still in this, and everybody's going to give everything they've got."

Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times, published 24 November 2020