By JEFF CARLSON
Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at JoeBucsFan.com. Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.
The Bucs’ “Race to 10” is 70 percent fulfilled with 37 percent of the season remaining (six games to get three wins) for Raheem Morris’ mantra to come to pass.
The season began with discussions on this website and other media outlets about the number of wins and/or the perceived improvement that would allow Morris to keep his job following 2010. By all accounts, 10 wins was beyond reach and quietly laughable, sans one young coach and his remarkably young football team. With seven wins and six games to go, as well as a schedule that still has three teams with .500 records or less, “The Race to 10” makes Morris more sage than propagandist.
Through 10 games, the Bucs have won every game they should have won or could have been expected to win. No games have fallen through their hands and they almost pulled off a divisional road win at Atlanta. In that game, the goal for the pundits was to see this team simply “compete” against a decent team, something it didn’t do against Pittsburgh or New Orleans. It definitely did that and a little bit more.
Slim Chance, Major Test In Baltimore
Following Sunday’s impressive shutout of the Niners on a long west coast road trip, they now go back on the road and up against a team with an equally strong record and one of the best defensive teams in the entire league.
To get to their team goal, the final six must also have no mistakes or they must win an unexpected game along the way. There is no expectation (from me) for them to win in Baltimore, other than to see if they have grown to competing with playoff caliber teams, and especially against a team that can put major pressure on, and confusion into, every quarterback in the NFL.
As Josh Freeman continues to be lauded and applauded for his heroic efforts thus far, the elemental question that still remains is his ability to handle a defense like the Ravens. All third down situations will be the critical aspect of the game to watch this weekend. How he and the offensive line handle those difficult adjustments will be key to their handling the rest of the games on the schedule and potential not only for racing for 10 wins, but for actually competing in a playoff scenario.
What? That concept seemed absurd a couple of months ago, but that is where this team has come in just a couple months.
Even with 10 wins though, making the playoffs will still be extremely difficult. They could accomplish their season goal and end up third in the NFC South and behind other Wild Card hopefuls like the Bears (7-3), Packers (7-3), Eagles (7-3) or even the Giants (6-4) to miss the playoffs. To succeed so far beyond expectations and then fail to make the playoffs, would truly be a shame.
For this scenario to not become reality, “Expecting Eleven” needs to become the new team catchphrase, because 10 may not be enough to get into the dance, even though dancing in January wasn’t on the card in September.
Expectations have increased for everyone with the maturity of their MVP-caliber QB and other pleasant surprises (Mike Williams, LaGarrette Blount). To reach 11 will require four consecutive wins down the stretch. Do not expect a win at Baltimore Sunday, but if they do, God bless them and watch out, because that will simply prove they are on a crusade from above.
But, when they do come home 7-4, they will play host to the Atlanta Falcons the following week and this is the game they really need for those playoffs to materialize. There will still be scenarios that keep their hopes alive (beating the Saints in the New Orleans finale), but they will be greatly diminished. Three more wins must be reeled off against the .500 Redskins, the lowly Lions and the mediocre Seahawks so that the regular season finale is not a “must-win” to get in. This scenario makes them 11-5 and secures a well-deserved playoff spot.
Any mistake along the way will most likely make them miss the playoffs and leave us applauding their ability to overcome the low expectations from the outside (of One Buc Place) world and give us much fodder for the offseason of much greater expectations in 2011.
Through the first 10 games they have taken care of business perfectly, winning all the winnable games. Beating Washington, Detroit and Seattle are the remaining games that satisfy their coach’s hope of the improbable.
With the success thus far, renaming and refocusing their goal to “Expecting 11” secures the playoff game that would put the cherry on top of this quite unexpected season that has the QB and coach in the “Player Of The Year” and “Coach Of The Year” conversations as well as a couple of rookies that should be up for postseason honors. I guess Morris’ “Race To 10” has also secured his place for 2011.