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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs focus on winning games, not playoffs

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 04:58 PM
TAMPA -

"One Day at a Time'' was a CBS sitcom that ran for nine years.

It also happens to be the mantra of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers whenever someone has the audacity to mention the dreaded P-word.

Playoffs.

Although consecutive losses to division leaders dropped the Bucs to 6-6, they enter the final four games of the regular season still in contention for an NFC wild-card playoff berth as they finish preparations for Sunday's home matchup against the reeling Eagles.

"We're trying to stay focused on each game, but it does creep into your mind because you're human,'' said Bucs left tackle Donald Penn.

The Bucs are a game behind Seattle (7-5) in the battle for the NFC's No. 6 seed, with Washington, Dallas and Minnesota each at 6-6 heading into Sunday's matchups. Only one of the five clubs is likely to advance to the postseason.

"We're in the thick of things,'' Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Williams said. "We can't control what other teams do – we just have to do our job and take care of Philly first. Our goal right now is to get to 10-6 and let everything sort itself out. Hopefully we get in, and then you never know what happens.''

In 2010, the Bucs vaulted from 3-13 to 10-6 and still didn't make the playoffs.

Green Bay edged the Bucs and Giants on tiebreakers and then won three postseason games on the road before beating Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas.

"I've been on a team that won 10 games and didn't get an invite,'' Bucs outside linebacker Adam Hayward said. "There's a lot of football left and if we start worrying about all the other stuff, we're going to lose to Philly, New Orleans and St. Louis in the next three weeks.''

According to the website MakeNFLplayoffs.com, the Bucs have a 15.6 percent chance of earning their first playoff berth since the 2007 season. That figure stood at 38.8 percent before Tampa Bay fell to Atlanta and Denver in successive weeks.

The Seahawks appear to be in good shape.

After last week's comeback at Chicago, engineered by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle plays three of its final four at home – where the Seahawks are 5-0.

"The biggest thing is we have to focus on what we can do to win the last four games, but the only thing you can focus on is winning one game at a time,'' Wilson said.

Starting with Sunday's home matchup against an Arizona team mired in an eight-game losing streak, the Seahawks face opponents with a combined 22-24-2 record.

One factor that could hurt the Bucs down the line is their 3-5 conference mark, a potential playoff tiebreaker.

Despite all the talk of a singular focus, Bucs players are well aware of Tampa Bay's place in the NFL standings as members of the 2002 championship club arrive for Sunday's 10-year reunion ceremonies.

"I don't look at any of that playoff stuff on TV,'' said Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett, arching an eyebrow. "I just watch the Disney Channel … Hannah Montana and all that stuff.''

Kidding aside, the Bucs have overcome several major injuries under first-year coach Greg Schiano to enter the final quarter of the regular season still in the playoff mix. And for a franchise that hasn't won a postseason game since beating the Raiders in the Super Bowl, that's no laughing matter.

One element that could work in Tampa Bay's favor is facing Atlanta Dec. 30. The Falcons (11-1) are close to wrapping up the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed and coach Mike Smith could be tempted to rest his key regulars that afternoon at the Georgia Dome.

"There are going to be a lot of things happening over the next four weeks,'' Smith said. "It will be fun for the teams involved and it ought to be fun for the fans. It can't get any better than football in December.''


ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833 Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO

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