The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t had a winning season in five years, but after Sunday’s 45-17 drubbing of the Philadelphia Eagles, Lovie Smith’s young team is now 5-5 and preparing for a potential playoff run.
“We’ve talked a lot about being relevant again,” Smith said, via ESPN. “We’re relevant again.”
The Buccaneers put a hurting on their Week 11 hosts, using five touchdown passes from Jameis Winston and 235 rushing yards from Doug Martin to steamroll the Eagles. Tampa Bay has won two straight games and three of the last four to get back to .500, a mark the Bucs haven’t reached to end a season since 2010.
At 5-5, the Bucs are currently one game back of the Atlanta Falcons for the final playoff spot in the NFC. Suddenly, Tampa Bay’s home game against the Falcons in two weeks has become a pivotal one for the postseason race.
Smith’s team won just two games last season. Drafting Winston first overall this past spring looks like a franchise-changing moment for a team that lost 47 total games from 2011-14.
On Sunday, he became the third rookie quarterback ever to throw five touchdown passes in one game.
“We are watching a young quarterback grow before our eyes,” said receiver Mike Evans, who caught four passes for 63 yards and one of Winston’s five touchdowns.
Having a big-play threat like Martin behind has aided in Winston’s ascendance. Through 10 games, Martin has 941 rushing yards, which ranks second in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson. He is one of only four players with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season.
Now comes the tough part for the Bucs.
Rising to relevancy is one thing, but staying there is another. Tampa Bay will travel to Indianapolis to play the AFC South-leading Colts next week, before back-to-back home games against NFC South opponents (Falcons, Saints). Getting to 5-5 won’t mean much if the Bucs suddenly find themselves at 5-8 in three weeks.
Either way, the arrow is pointing straight up for Tampa Bay. Winston is a big reason why. As long as the No. 1 overall pick keeps improving and producing, the Buccaneers have a chance to stay relevant for a long time.