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Bucs hope for a rare strong finish, starting with New Orleans

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All they have to do is close the door. That’s it.

All they have to is finish. Nothing more.

For the Tampa Bay Bucs, contenders at last, the only thing they need to do to reach this year’s playoffs is finish strongly. That shouldn’t be too difficult, right? They have two games left against the Saints, who have lost seven times. They have one game left against the Panthers, who have lost eight. They have a game against the surprising 11-1 Dallas Cowboys, but they beat the Cowboys a year ago.

Ah, but finishing has always been a chore for the Bucs. Ask Jon Gruden, who was 9-3 in his last year before losing four straight. Ask Lovie Smith, whose team reached .500 a year ago…and lost four straight. Ask Raheem Morris, who lost his last 11 straight.

In all, the Bucs have finished 0-4 a total of 12 times, and they’ve gone 1-3 nine times.

So what makes this season different? Maybe it’s that the Bucs are on a four-game winning streak, and the defense is playing its best, and quarterback Jameis Winston is on an eight-game hot streak. Still, like the fourth quarter of games, the fourth quarter of a season can be a tricky thing.

For the Bucs, that means taking on quarterbacks every week. Drew Brees, who leads the NFL in passing yards, is up next. Rookie of the year candidate Dak Prescott of the Cowboys and reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton are coming up.

The Bucs are 16th in the NFL against the pass, although they have played better during their winning streak.

Sunday’s game against the Saints is at 1 p.m.

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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