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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vowing to fight to the finish

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 07:02 PM
TAMPA -

The prevailing belief is that there is nothing left to play for, that the playoffs are a lost cause and if that's the case, then what's the difference really between finishing 6-8 or 8-8 .

Just try telling that to Adam Hayward.

The veteran Buccaneers linebacker and special teams captain was a part of 3-13 three years ago, a part of 4-12 last year and a part of 41-0 last week at New Orleans. None of it is what he wants to be remembered for.

Not that beating the Rams today and the Falcons next week and finishing with an 8-8 record is going to change all that. The best it can do maybe is temper the nausea created by last month of losses.

But maybe that's enough.

The way Hayward sees it, at 8-8 the Bucs four-game losing streak looks more like a flat tire than a complete breakdown. At 8-8 the Bucs look like a team in need of some repairs, not a complete overhaul.

"If you can finish off strong with what you have and get a couple more key players that you think can put you over the edge, all of a sudden you're going into next season feeling like you've got a strong team,'' Hayward said.

"So to me, it's definitely important that we finish off these last two games playing strong and prove that all we really had here was a minor setback and that we're past that as well.

"I mean, you're playing for your name, for your team and you either have that fight in you or you don't and it's at times like this that you find out quickly who really has that fight in them and who doesn't.''

It's a test then, these last two games, a test of character, a test of will and want to. It's no wonder then that Bucs coach Greg Schiano has no plans to alter his lineup and start testing players who have yet to be tested.

That's what a lot of coaches do now. Their current season shot, they start looking ahead to next season, start looking more closely at the players they have at the bottom of their depth chart. Not Schiano.

Instead of resting rookies such as running back Doug Martin, safety Mark Barron and linebacker Lavonte David in an effort to see what he's got in Mike Smith, Keith Tandy and Najee Goode, Schiano will maintain the status quo.

Winning today and finishing 8-8 is a part of it. But like Hayward, Schiano has a broader scope. He's trying to build something here and Martin, Barron and David are cornerstones of the structure.

"One of the things we talked about when we arrived here was establishing a new culture, a different culture,'' Schiano said. "And guys like Doug Martin are a part of us establishing that new culture.

"So I don't think this is a good time in our program's development to say, 'Hey Doug, why don't you just cool off for a while here and think about next year.' That's not where we are as a program.

"If we were a veteran laden team that for whatever reason didn't make the playoffs this year but had made it the last five or six, then maybe we do that, maybe want rest him. But that's not the case.''

Most of the players don't want the rest. Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers certainly doesn't. After missing the first six games of the year while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, the second-year pro needs the game-time experience these last two games offer.

"Any type of game experience I can get right now is always a good thing,'' Bowers said. "And who knows, having these next two games under my belt this year might help me at the end of next year.''

Fellow end Michael Bennett doesn't necessarily need the experience. He's been a regular for a couple of years now, but he's chasing a milestone right now as he attempts to become the first Bucs since Simone Rice in 2005 to record at least 10 sacks in a season.

But Bennett said there is a lot more behind his desire to play than a milestone and the millions of dollars it could mean in the new contract he'll sign after the one he has expires at the end of the season.

"Sure you want to build up your resume,'' Bennett said. "But there's more incentive than that. There's also incentive to play hard and build up our fan base for next year.

"We have great fans out there and they're starting to come to the games more than they did at the beginning of the year and we want that to continue, so that's a part of it, too.''

It certainly is for Schiano. The Bucs, who failed this week to sell enough tickets to lift the local TV blackout for the sixth time this year, are 3-4 at home and you get the sense he believes he can win some fans back with a strong finish.

"It is all going to come together here, but I would like to finish this thing off at home the right way for a lot of reasons and one of them is our fans,'' he said. "I'd like to send them off with a good taste in their mouth.''

Hayward wants to experience the same aftertaste. He said as much to his team when he addressed them en masse early in the week. Bennett is one who heard loud and clear the message Hayward delivered.

"There are a lot of reasons why we need to finish this thing off strong and win these last two games,'' he said, "and the biggest thing is, the great teams, that's what they do, they finish strong.

"And I honestly believe we're on the verge of becoming a great team. We're between good and great right now and so these last two games, they give us a chance to get a little closer to being great, and that's what we're playing for.''

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