Finishing the season with a record above .500, and perhaps even making the playoffs, is looking like a surprisingly realistic goal for the Buccaneers with seven games to play. Tampa Bay won for the third time in four games Sunday, beating the woeful, injury-plagued Panthers 31-16, one week after losing to the Falcons.
QB Josh Freeman completed 18-of-24 passes and connected with WR Arrelious Benn and TE Kellen Winslow for touchdowns. RBs LeGarrette Blount and Cadillac Williams each rushed for a TD.
The young Bucs, who started seven rookies against Carolina, are ranked just 21st in offense and 22nd in defense, but they're 6-3 and tied for second place in the NFC South.
The PFW spin
It's most likely going to take another three or four wins to get into the postseason, and the Bucs are capable of getting those victories.
They have a tough three-game stretch coming up, starting with a trip to San Francisco. The 49ers aren't an impressive team, but they have won two in a row. After that, the Bucs play only one team with a record under .500 the rest of the way. They visit Baltimore and come home to play the Falcons.
Then things lighten up a bit.
Tampa Bay goes to Washington and comes home for Detroit and Seattle. The season finale at New Orleans should be tough.
If they can somehow pull it off, getting into the playoffs would be a stunning accomplishment for the Bucs.
Head coach Raheem Morris and his players may not want to hear it right now, but, barring a disastrous final seven games, there's no denying this year will have been a very positive one for an organization that seemed to be lost at times last season. Postseason appearance or not, they will have won some games they weren't supposed to win, and gained credibility as a young team headed in the right direction.