Big day ahead for Buccaneers

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:04 AM ET

TAMPA BAY — It’s Round 2 as far as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Atlanta Falcons rematch goes here Sunday afternoon.

For the Bucs, though, it’s more like Round 5 in what has been for them a season of mostly unexpected joy, a season of over-achievement given how poorly they have fared the past few years.

At 7-4, the Buccaneers should be doing nothing but rejoicing. But even though they are one of just five teams in the NFL at 7-4, they battle a fan base that has yet to embrace them — they haven’t had a sell out this season and will fall short again in Sunday’s big matchup.

Florida has been hit harder than most states as far as the recession south of the border goes and in this part of the state sitting on one’s wallet is the national past time as the Tampa Bay Rays can attest.

The Bucs also haven’t beaten any teams of note this season, dropping all four games they have played against teams with winning records — Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Atlanta and last week a 17-10 loss at Baltimore against the Ravens, the final score not reflecting how soundly they were thumped.

So this game, as far as the Bucs are concerned, is another round against top-notch opposition. More than that, a win over the high-flying 9-2 Falcons could present the Bucs with what amounts to a stepping stone into the playoffs. It certainly would be nothing short of a shining path.

After this game, the Bucs travel to Washington then return home for games against the Lions and the Seahawks — three games they could win and two in which they are sure to be favoured.

They close out with a game in New Orleans but if they beat the Falcons on Sunday and win the following three, the Saints game could become moot as an 11-5 record should be good enough to make the post-season.

But we’re getting ahead of their job at hand, which is the Falcons. As poorly as they played against Baltimore last week — especially quarterback Josh Freeman — the Bucs have shown to be resilient and have yet to drop two in a row this season.

They have that going for them as well as the fact that they are not intimidated by Atlanta.

Back on Week 9, the Bucs played the Falcons tough, losing 27-21 due to the fact that Atlanta turned them back on a fourth-and-goal from the one in the final minutes of the game. Running back LeGarrette Blount was stuffed on the play and the Falcons were able to run out the clock to keep their fabulous winning streak at home intact.

“We know how to win,’’ Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson said after the game — a statement the last-gasp Falcons can make just about every time they play at home. “This team has done a great job of finishing. When our backs are against the wall, we can find a way to win the football game.”

Now it’s up to the Buccaneers to see if they have taken any notes from that loss and the one against the Ravens.

For his part, Tampa head coach Raheem Morris gets slightly ticked when it’s pointed out that his team hasn’t won a “statement” game. It’s become like a boil on his butt.

“We don’t consider litmus tests,” Morris said after the loss to Baltimore. “We don’t hold anyone in the National Football League in higher regard. Fortunately enough, we don’t play in the BCS. We don’t play lower opponents. This is the National Football League, where everybody comes out to play every single week.”

At 7-4, coming close and having moral victories in loses against top teams no longer cuts it in the Bucs clubhouse.

“There are no positives,” cornerback Ronde Barber said last week. “I said this all year long when we were winning with last-minute comebacks, the ultimate outcome of the game is the only thing that matters. There are no positives. You find a way to win or you don’t.”

Against winning teams, they haven’t. Round 5 for the Bucs is approaching.


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