As the second half of their regular season begins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers realize the time for talk is long gone.
By dropping a 27-16 decision at New Orleans, the Bucs went 1-3 in the second quarter of the season to fall to .500 at 4-4. They trail the Saints by 1½ games in the NFC South and are a game behind Atlanta and Chicago in the NFC wild-card chase.
Is this a critical juncture as the first-place Houston Texans arrive in Tampa this weekend?
"Very definitely, it is,'' said right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. "Hey, 4-5 sounds a lot worse than 5-4. We don't want to have a losing record, period. We want to have a winning mark in the third quarter and the fourth quarters and see what happens. We've got eight games to prove ourselves.''
The Bucs are 2-1 in the division, but the Falcons have reeled off three consecutive wins and the Bears have already beaten Tampa Bay, giving them a potentially significant tie-breaker edge if the clubs finish with the same record after 16 games.
If Tampa Bay loses to Houston and Carolina beats Tennessee at home, the Bucs will be closer to last place than the top spot in the NFC South. And after failing to make the postseason a year ago, despite a 10-6 finish, the Bucs have stressed since training camp the importance of winning their division.
"I feel this game coming up can definitely set the tone for this football team,'' said rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster. "It could, and I think it will. We've got a chance to start the second half of the season on the right note. We definitely took our bumps through the first half, but now it's our time to execute. There's no other choice.''