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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: This one’s pretty close to a must-win for Bucs

TAMPA — There’s no such thing as “Must Win” in Week 1 of an NFL season

Let’s just say “Better Win.”

The Bucs better go to New York and beat the beaten-down Jets.

They’re playing a team in a gaseous state, with lame-duck coach Rex Ryan, with a rookie quarterback making his first start. Geno Smith edged out injured butt-fumbler Mark Sanchez.

Oh, yeah, and the Bucs have the Jets’ best player: Darrelle Revis.

Sunday has the makings of a circus, with Revis’ return to New York and football in general. Will Jets fans cheer Revis? I say yes. Will Revis, the best there is, pick young Geno? I say there’s a chance, if the Jets dare go there.

I mean, when is the last time you saw a team coming off a 7-9 season being installed as a four-point favorite, on the road, to open a season? The Bucs have looked awful in the preseason. At times, it seemed almost by design, as if to hide their hand.

Better win.

It’s not just because Drew Brees and the Saints and Tom Brady and the Patriots are in the wings. It’s easy to see 0-3 if the Bucs lose this one.

The Jets are prime targets. They are virtually weapon-less, at least on offense.

The whimpering Sanchez makes Josh Freeman look like bedrock. Smith got a shot in preseason against the Giants and promptly threw three interceptions. The rookie seems ripe for the picking.

All the Jets have is rollicking Rex’s postgame theatrics, and his predictions, though even those have faded.

Now, having said all that:

Bucs beware.

Even without Revis, the Jets had the eighth-ranked defense in the NFL last season, including the No. 2 pass defense. And can we assume Freeman success given No. 5’s zombie preseason?

And for anyone wondering how anything could possibly go wrong Sunday, there’s history.

Take the last time the Bucs went to New York. It was just last season, in Week 2, to face the Giants after an opening win in Greg Schiano’s debut as an NFL head coach. The new coach was heading home, a Jersey Boy’s triumphant return.

It was disaster. The Giants roared from behind to win. Eli Manning threw for 2 million yards in the second half, the first tip-off on a horrible Bucs pass defense and on Schiano stubbornness, as he kept blitzing and got shredded. It ended with Giants headmaster Tom Coughlin putting Schiano over his knee after the whippersnapper had his lads dive at the Giants’ victory formation.

And don’t forget the last time the Bucs faced the Jets after picking up a Jet with star power. That would be the fabled Keyshawn Game of 2000, when Key, new to the Bucs, faced his old team in Week 4 in Tampa.

Jets coach Al Groh put a gag order on his team during Key Week. Keyshawn Johnson said he wasn’t going to talk, either. He then held a news conference Monday, one Wednesday and an impromptu one Friday after he flipped off a camera crew on Thursday. The money shot that week came when Key considered a former teammate, Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet.

“You’re trying to compare a flashlight to a star,” Key said. “Flashlights last only so long. A star is in the sky forever.”

Keyshawn caught one ball for 1 yard, on a shovel pass, no less. Flashlight Wayne Chrebet? He caught the last-minute winning touchdown on a halfback-option pass from Curtis Martin, with 52 seconds left.

So, yes, things can still go very wrong this Sunday.

I don’t think it will be on Darrelle Revis.

This isn’t Keyshawn. This is a different kind of cat.

For this to be a different kind of Bucs season, start Sunday.

Better win.

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