After breaking down hundreds of plays as an analyst on the Buccaneers preseason TV broadcasts, former safety John Lynch concluded Tampa Bay lacked one element usually inherent in a winning team.
He wasn't alone. Former Colts architect Bill Polian voiced similar concerns after scouting the Bucs. Even veteran defensive back Ronde Barber wondered aloud if Tampa Bay had the depth necessary to win consistently.
On Sunday, those concerns may have been answered.
With backups pressed into regular roles at right defensive end, right guard, nose tackle and cornerback, the Bucs broke a three-game losing streak by soundly defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 38-10 at Raymond James Stadium.
"There were several guys who came in in reserve roles and were very productive for us and did (their) job,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said on Monday. "I was really happy to see that.''
One of the most productive was cornerback E.J. Biggers, who stepped in for the suspended Aqib Talib at cornerback and recorded two tackles while also playing a key role in one of the biggest plays of the game.
On third-and-5 from the Chiefs' 28-yard line in the third quarter, Biggers had the initial breakup on a pass intended for Dexter McCluster that Barber intercepted and returned 78 yards for a touchdown.
Barber credited Biggers with an "assist'' on the play, saying Biggers deserved more credit than he did for the touchdown that gave the Bucs a 21-3 lead and all but decided the game.
"When something goes bad, you just have to keep moving on and that's what we did," Biggers said of the team's approach after losing Talib. "If you keep moving on and do your job great things will happen.''
Great things have been happening up front on defense all season. The Bucs went into Sunday's game leading the league in plays resulting in negative yards with 41 and added five against the Chiefs, largely because of their depth.
Gary Gibson stepped in on several plays for starting nose tackle Roy Miller, who has nursed a sore back, and came away with two tackles for loss among his four tackles overall.
And Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, who took over as the starting right end after the loss of Adrian Clayborn to a season-ending knee injury two games ago, had a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.
"(Defensive end) George Johnson got in there and he did some good things, too,'' Schiano said. "And as a coach, you want to see that kind of improvement (from the backups), but that is sometimes harder because they get fewer (practice) repetitions.''
No one has had fewer practice repetitions at the position he stepped into on Sunday than Jamon Meredith, who replaced Ted Larsen at right guard, a position the South Carolina product had not played since the 2009 Outback Bowl.
Meredith acquitted himself well, though, helping an offensive line that allowed just one sack and paved the way for a 145-yard rushing effort that was the best of the year for the Bucs.
"I thought Jamon did some really good things,'' Schiano said. "I didn't expect to watch the tape and say, 'Oh, we've found John Hannah.' But if we can continue to move forward with him, that can become a real good piece of the puzzle.''
Piecing together a game-day roster knowing he might have to rely on reserves to carry the day is one of the toughest parts of a coach's job. It's made even more difficult in the NFL by the limited number of players a coach has at his disposal.
That's why it's important for players such as Biggers, Gibson, Te'o-Nesheim and Meredith to be ready. Their contributions, though sometimes small in number, can mean the difference between winning and losing a big game.
"I always say you have to have a next-man-up mentality, because you never know what could happen,'' defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "And I think our coaches have done a great job of training everybody to be ready whenever they have to step up.''
It sure looked like it on Sunday.