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It’s December. Do you know where your Bucs are? (Hint: First place)

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It’s December, and the Tampa Bay Bucs matter.

And when is the last time that happened?

Do you count 2010, when the Bucs finished 10-6 but missed the playoffs? How about 2008, when they entered the last four games at 9-3 and lost four straight? How about 2007 when they made the playoffs (and were beaten in the first game). Or 2005, when they reached the playoffs (and lost in the first game). Or 2003, after the 2002 season, when the team won the Super Bowl.

At any rate, it’s December. And there are the Bucs, tied for first in the NFC South despite a 1-3 start.

What, then, should the Bucs expect?

“It’s a delicate balance because all I control is what I say to them in the other room and there’s just a lot boiling, swirling around these guys right now,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “And it’s all positive, but you can see – some guys I think can shut it out, but guys – whether it’s family, friends, media, we’ve gone from a team that didn’t get a whole lot of attention to a team that’s getting more. And hey, that’s all great, but it doesn’t do anything for you on Sunday. You’ve got to play on Sunday and to be honest, after looking at the tape, I don’t think we played great yesterday. We got the win, but when you really look at it, did we do anything – we made plays when it counted and the back-to-back plays of (punter) Bryan Anger’s punt down to the 7-yard line and then the pick-six on the next play, those two plays flipped the momentum back because we were really just kind of hanging on for a big part of that game. And then I thought we finished the game well. I thought we played it better overall in the second half, but I don’t think we played overall as well in that game than as we had the last three weeks. And I know for a fact we’re going to have to play better against New Orleans.”

Koetter’s team has had most of its success on the road, where the team is 5-1.

“I can’t explain it,” Koetter said. “I wish we had a better home record, but your record is what your record is, no matter how you get there. I’m a big believer that it’s tougher to win on the road, it should be and it’s always harder with the crowd noise, the travel. Especially, we’ve had three West Coast trips this year and we certainly did not play our best football in that first trip to Arizona.

“We’ve played better in the other two and the fact that we’re not afraid to go on the road and compete, that’s a good thing. That was a resilient win yesterday and we’ve got to carry that over to our home games. We’ve really only played – we had the one win against Chicago, we’re close in the Oakland game, close in the L.A. game, but close doesn’t get you too far.”

Koetter said his team has rallied behind quarterback Jameis Winston.

“I think there’s definitely something to that and there’s different styles – I’m sure (New England quarterback) Tom Brady and (Green Bay quarterback) Aaron Rodgers and (Pittsburgh quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger and we’re seeing one of the best in (New Orleans quarterback) Drew Brees this week, they all have their own style,” Koetter said. “As you said, leadership can take on many forms, but you also have to be able to back it up with your play and Jameis has done that. He’s got a unique style I would say, to pro football. That’s part of his youth. We’ve got to keep reminding ourselves he should be a senior in college right now. But it’s refreshing – I’ve said it many times, if you didn’t know better, it could come across almost as corny sometimes, but when Jameis does it, it’s not. I’m saying, it doesn’t come across as corny at all when he does it.

“If I said some of the stuff he did, or some other quarterbacks I’ve been around – because it wouldn’t be them. But that’s Jameis and that’s really who he is, it’s who he is every day. And after the players are around it, they’re attracted to that because sometimes Jameis says things that they wish they could say, or they wish they had it in them to say. And then he backs it up.”

 The Bucs lost receiver Cecil Shorts to a knee injury (out for the year) and Adam Humphries suffered a concussion. The Bucs ended the game with only three wide receivers, meaning the team has some moves to make.

Tampa Bay is home against the Saints this Sunday at 1 p.m.

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Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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