"What does not kill me, makes me stronger." – German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, 1888
"When you're going through a rough year like this, you can really see what guys are made of.'' – Bucs QB Josh Freeman, 2011
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping a jarring eight-game losing streak can provide the impetus for a dramatic turnaround in 2012.
The NFL's youngest team has fallen off the playoff map after a 4-2 start. A loss Saturday at Carolina would ensure the Bucs of a last-place finish in the NFC South for the fourth time in the past eight seasons.
"Personally, I think we needed to go through this,'' said second-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, whose season ended early because of a torn biceps muscle.
"We had a lot of young guys last year who felt success immediately … they didn't experience any growing pains. It's not always going to be easy in the NFL. If you want to get to the top, it's going to be a grind. All these teams you see at the top weren't always there.''
If adversity builds character, the Bucs figure they've been tested quite enough.
Tampa Bay hasn't dropped nine consecutive games in one season since an 0-9 start under Leeman Bennett in 1985, when current Bucs head coach Raheem Morris was still in elementary school.
"When you're going through a rough year like this, you can really see what guys are made of,'' 23-year-old quarterback Josh Freeman said. "Obviously, we have no playoff hopes, but it's still about going about your job and taking pride in what you do. You learn a lot about the guys on this team. We're still fighting, still preparing.''
And still losing.
The prolonged tailspin has raised questions about the job security of Morris, who went 10-6 last season and finished second in voting for NFL Coach of the Year.
"Every year you expect to win, especially coming off last season,'' defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "There's a big evaluation going on around here right now and we've been under a lot of scrutiny. For whatever reason, we haven't been a synchronized team.''
Wide receiver Mike Williams is eager to apply the painful lessons of 2011.
"I understand you're going to have your bad years and good years,'' Williams said. "Hopefully, next year we can look back and say our current adversity helped us get focused. And hopefully, everybody stays around and we show a big difference as a team next season.''
The Bucs aren't the only NFC South franchise to recently suffer through a forgettable season.
With former coach John Fox saddled in a lame-duck situation, the Panthers went 2-14 last season, getting the right to pick quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall draft choice.
"It's tough when things aren't going the right way,'' Carolina left tackle Jordan Gross said Wednesday. "You lose some games you should have won. But I think you can build character in those situations, seeing what you're made of in those tough times. When I look at the Bucs on film, I see a team still working.''
Tackle Jeremy Trueblood has seen the Bucs ride a roller-coaster during their three years under Morris.
"We had a lot of rookies play last year and they got a taste of winning 10 games, which is hard to do in this league,'' Trueblood said. "Nobody likes sitting in our position, knowing you're not going to the playoffs, but maybe this awful feeling, this bad taste, will stick with us.''
In a season like this, only the strong survive.
"It's tough to figure out a way to win right now,'' guard Davin Joseph said. "The key is to stick together and fight through this. We're going to find out who's in and who's out.''