Nelson Mandela had just died. There were storms on the East Coast. Jay-Z had led the Grammy nominations.
And the Tampa Bay Bucs won a home game.
It was long ago, back when TV was in black-and-white. At least, it seems that way since Dec. 8 of 2013. Greg Schiano was the head coach. Mike Glennon was the quarterback. And the Bucs improved all the way up to 4-9.
The Bucs beat Buffalo that day, and then fell into a hole. Eleven straight losses followed until Sunday, when Tampa Bay beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, who can’t win a road game (12 straight losses), 38-31. Overall, it was the fourth win of the Lovie Smith era, which covers 21 games.
There were positives in the victory. Doug Martin ran for 123 yards. Jameis Winston had no turnovers and a 122.5 quarterback rating. The defensive line had six sacks, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
There were negatives, too. The Bucs’ porous secondary gave up 303 yards passing and four touchdowns to the Jags’ Blake Bortles. And, in a move that seemed symbolic to a lot of Buc fans, the Bucs chose to run out the clock with a first-down on their own 40 with 36 seconds left and three timeouts left just before the half rather than try for a field goal.
But, when a team is coming off a two-win season and equals that five games into the next year, you take what you can get.
“We’re disappointed in what has happened this year for us,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We feel we’re a good football team. That team out there is a pretty good team that can play with anybody around.”
Well, no, they can’t. Still, the Bucs crafted a nice little game plan with Doug Martin rushing for 123 yards and Jameis Winston hitting 13 of 19 for 209 yards. So what if the secondary was a sieve, allowing visiting quarterback Blake Bortles to throw for 303 yards and four touchdowns.
“It’s huge,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “We haven’t won at home since 2013 and it’s dang near 2016 right now and we’re going into a bye. You think about last year, we played Baltimore right before that bye, and that was not the way you want to go into the bye week.”
For the Bucs, this was big. For one thing, it matched their season win total from last year with 11 games to go. For another, it probably quieted – at least for the moment – the sound of bounty hunters looking for the head of Smith. Smith has spent only 21 games in his job, but already, fans are getting restless as they search for improvement.
The Bucs are off next week, then play at Washington the following week.