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Even after loss, Bucs’ Lovie Smith thinks his team is relevant

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They have been away from the playoffs so long, it sounds odd to hear their name in connection with a possible visit.

Are the Tampa Bay Bucs really alive in the race?

Numerically, they’re still in at 5-6. But the next two weeks, when the Bucs play against division opponents they beat on the road earlier in the season, will be crucial. Tampa Bay hosts Atlanta this week and New Orleans the following week.

“You want to be relevant, you want to be in the mix for what’s happening down the line,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “Sunday was disappointing. We are in the mix and we are relevant right now, but Sunday was disappointing in a lot of different ways.”

For instance, there were the penalties. The Bucs, who lead the league in most number of penalties, were called for 12 for 95 yards.

“Penalties have hurt us quite a bit throughout the year,” Smith said. “Yesterday of course there were some big ones that kind of dictated a little bit the outcome of the game. We have to clean those things up.”

For instance, there was the pass defense. Matt Hasselbeck, the Colts’ 40-year-old backup quarterback, threw for 315 yards on the Bucs.

“Sunday was disappointing,” Smith said. “I can’t really give you a lot of reasons why we gave up some plays we normally don’t give up, yesterday. All those things I said before the game, I’m saying right now. It won’t let us down anymore.”

For instance, there was the pass protection. Quarterback Jameis Winston was sacked five times.

“It wasn’t as strong as it’s been most of the year,” Smith said. “That’s how we have to look at it. You have to give them credit. They were able to get pressure on us yesterday quite a few times. We didn’t run the ball as well as we would like. When we were doing those things well of course we would complement our line quite a bit. We just didn’t play as well as we need to yesterday.”

For instance, there is handling success.

“There’s no margin for error as we see it now,” Smith said. “This is the final stage of our growth, rebirth, whatever you want to call it is to finish on this back stretch. Right now, as you look at our season we went 1-3 the first quarter, 2-2 the second, we have an opportunity — no, it’s a must — that we go 3-1 this third quarter finishing up with 4-0 in the last. Yes, the final phase is that. We are in position. In November you want to get in position and now it’s who gets hot at the end. We think we’re going to be one of those teams. There’s not a whole lot of doom and gloom around here. The last thing we need to see is that when you don’t take care of business late this is what can happen. I’m of the school of thought that we are going to be one of those teams that’s going to do this now, right when we need to.

“We’re 5-6, we’re right in the mix. There’s disappointment, but it’s not like we’re 10 games out. We’re not. We’re right in the mix right now. That’s what it tells me — we’re 5-6 and right in the mix. We haven’t been in a position where we can sweep a division opponent in a while. Again, disappointment for yesterday, but not going forward. We’re going to be one of those teams that will get it taken care of at the end.”

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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