TAMPA — Ah, the Bills game.
Who would have ever thought a game between a 3-9 team and a 4-8 team could mean so much?
If you don’t believe it, just watch what happens if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Greg Schiano, lose it.
We’ll be right back where we started, back at the corner of 0 and 8, the same narrative, the same questions, the same conclusion: The coach can’t survive.
Once upon a time, before football season, the optimists out there probably figured that if the Bucs were going to have any chance at making the playoffs, they’d have to beat teams like the Bills.
Now it’s like this: if you can’t beat the Bills, how does Schiano keep his job?
Lose Sunday and it’s all downhill, right on down to 3-13.
And there’s no way you can prop that up.
Not even that three-game winning streak or the emergence of Mike Glennon will matter.
Glennon better emerge from that Carolina setback if Schiano is going to have any chance.
When the Bucs were 0-8, you probably started doing the math in your head, wondering how many games, if any, this team could win down the stretch.
Maybe you came up with three or four.
I bet you circled the Bills as a win.
In some cases, that might have been the only game you circled.
The problem: In western New York, I bet there were a lot of people who circled the Bucs. The only difference is they were probably wearing mittens when they made their circle.
Lose to the Bills and all the recent Kumbayas and “We … are … family” stuff goes out the window.
Lose to the Bills and Schiano’s belated hearts-and-minds tour won’t make a dent.
Schiano is scrambling for traction, because he knows 4-12 and 3-13 don’t have much, if any.
He even did radio with local firebrand Steve Duemig. One Bucs blogger described it as a “powerful landmark interview.” Eat your heart out, Frost-Nixon.
Lose to the Bills …
You don’t lose to the Bills.
You just got crushed at Carolina. You got crushed, and you can’t get crushed again.
And losing to the Bills would be twice as bad as losing to the Panthers.
The opponent after this is the 49ers, playing for their postseason chances. And the Bucs’ final game is at the Saints, who won 41-0 in New Orleans last season, and who now have the Panthers breathing down their necks.
In between is a game in St. Louis, against the Rams, the Bradford-less Rams, to be sure, but still a dangerous game.
By the way, when you’re 3-9, they’re all dangerous games.
The Rams are dangerous because they have a pass rush.
By the way, so do the Bills.
The way the Bucs are running the ball lately, or not running it, and the way they’re pass blocking, bodes very unwell against a Buffalo team that leads the NFL in sacks.
Lose to the Bills and we’re right back where we started, trying to make a case for the head coach that can’t be made, even with his hand-picked quarterback showing signs that he can play.
Glennon’s counterpart today is Buffalo rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who has shown promise of his own. Manuel played for Florida State, which lost to Glennon and N.C. State last season, despite a 16-0 lead. Iron Mike led the Wolfpack back. He better do the same for the Bucs.
How do the Glazers sell 3-13?
It makes it sound as if 4-12 is an easy sell.
This is a 3-9 team with the 31st-ranked offense in the league.
How do you see headed in the right direction if you lose your last five games?
Lose to the Bills and the narrative is the old narrative.
We’re building up a game between 3-9 and 4-8 as if it has playoff implications.
It still has implications. It’s been circled for a long time, ever since 0-8, when we were trying to figure out how the Bucs could win some games in 2013.
Lose to the Bills and all this stuff about guys not quitting doesn’t mean a thing — after all, they’re pros, they’re not supposed to quit, right. They’re not supposed to be 3-9, either.
They’re supposed to beat the Bills.
Just like the Bills are supposed to beat the Bucs.
You see the problem right there, don’t you?