Trying to make sense of the Tampa Bay Bucs… playoff contender?

Bucs RB Doug Martin delivered quite the stiff arm last night against the Vikings (Associated Press)

It’s no secret that I’ve been high on the Bucs all season. I wrote about their sudden transformation in the summer, then picked Greg Schiano as my coach of the year candidate.┬áBut too often, they’ve earned hard-fought, tough losses instead of wins.

It made them a quick team to forget about when it comes to the playoff picture. But did last night change things? Did their 36-17 beatdown of the home Vikings alter their course? Forget about being a rare road team to win on Thursday… though they are.

They took down a 5-2 team in a game that wasn’t close with the nation watching in the best way. They ruined everything the Vikings were trying to do, forced Adrian Peterson (!) of all people into a fumble, and then had Doug Martin out-perform AD with 214 total yards.

Suddenly… the Bucs are 3-4 with three winnable games coming up, with the Chargers at home being the toughest. They also travel to the Raiders and Panthers, though they’ve shown being away from home doesn’t affect them. Does that put them right in the mix?

I’d say it does. And actually, the Bucs seem to be in good position regardless. They are tested, with close road losses against the Giants and Cowboys. And against inferior teams like the Chiefs and apparently the Vikings — they’ve issued blowouts. They are tough against the run, they can run the ball themselves, and once they have a lead, that makes things difficult.

If QB Josh Freeman, who was 4 of 4 on third downs on that final 87-yard drive that closed it out, continues to improve, this team has a shot to surprise some people. Given how they played last night and kept responding in that crazy loud atmosphere, one had to be impressed.

I think the guys did a great job of handling the situation and showed great maturity,” Bucs TE Dallas Clark said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “The guys moved on and didn’t lie around and thinking about losing a tough one (to New Orleans) Sunday.”

Doesn’t seem like much bothers them. So, yeah, a team to watch.

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