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Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Are Bucs growing? It's anybody's guess

TAMPA - And now, children, a safety reminder: When playing a defending Super Bowl champion, if you can't make that first onside kick work when they're not expecting it, don't try one when they are! Thanks, Mr. Science! Now, where were we? The Bucs, they're 4-6.
The Philadelphia Eagles, former dream team, are also 4-6 (and a huge disappointment), but they left New York flying high after a win against the Giants. The Bucs have lost four in a row. How do you build off that? Yes, there were glimmers of hope Sunday at Lambeau Field. For most of the afternoon, the Bucs offense looked like an offense, fully integrated, all those moving parts. The defense looked like a defense, young, eager and daring. Where has that been? The Bucs are the only team that can play the champs close and make you mad. They're encouraging and infuriating at the same time. Yes, but for a few bounces here and there, and a completely untimely screwball decision by Raheem Morris, they maybe could have toppled Green Bay. Only the whole time I watched that game, which was thoroughly watchable for once, I never thought the Bucs would win. More to the point, watching the Packers, it never looked as if they ever thought they'd lose. But here's the infuriating part with these Bucs: There is absolutely no guarantee that they won't hop back on the sod this Sunday in Tennessee and look absolutely awful. There's never any telling with this bunch. Yes, that's true of a lot of also-rans in the NFL. But we don't watch them. These guys we watch. And they're one nutty bunch. And don't tell me Morris and general manager Mark Dominik saw all of this coming. Has Josh Freeman truly rediscovered his 2010 form? Is LeGarrette Blount, after that spectacular chainsaw touchdown run against the Packers, going to be a force the rest of the season? Is Mike Williams back? Is Kellen Winslow going to have his hands all over this thing, like he did a lot on Sunday, except maybe that Freeman two-point toss? Is the defense rounding into shape? Did it cut its teeth on frozen tundra? We have no idea. We really have no idea which Bucs will show up on Sunday, though with five losses in six games we're beginning to get a sneaking suspicion. They're an inconsistent team, often an undisciplined team, riding emotional waves with their coach, one crazy ride. I don't think the Bucs have the talent or the discipline to run off six straight wins, though the schedule, by some accounts, now turns easier. But those games with Carolina suddenly don't look very easy, not since we learned Cam Newton can play . As for Jacksonville, since when does 4-6 get to look down on 3-7? Take nothing for granted down this home stretch. "Who knows, maybe we can win them all," Winslow said. K2 might need to go on oxygen. Yes, an NFL season is built of many seasons within seasons. The Bucs will try to feed off what they can in the Packers game. There's a morsel or two. "There's always something to build off of," Blount said. The Bucs might go tear apart the Titans – or get ripped to shreds themselves. Morris cited wins against New Orleans and Atlanta and Sunday in Green Bay. "We can compete with anybody, and that's all that matters in this league," he said. At this point, the Bucs should settle for growing. We'll see if they've done any of that come Sunday. Your guess is as good as mine – or theirs.
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