The Bucs are almost always under the radar. The Tampa Bay metropolitan area is one of the 15 largest in the country, but I've learned that no one outside of the state really talks about the city much. Except people who like cigars and strip clubs, because these are apparently the things that the city is known for around the country, a fact I only learned after moving away as an adult. You can imagine the disappointment. (It's also a big place for grandparents. Like, "You're from Tampa? Hey! That's where my grandparents live! Do you know Oscar and Gertrude Baltakamus?" Um, no.)
The point is, even when the Bucs were successful, the city wasn't big-market enough to get very much love. I remember scouring national articles for Buc talk for years during winning seasons, and there was never really much mention--just a lot of, Oh yeah, the defense is great! Warren Sapp is a loudmouth! So anyway, wonder how the Giants are doing?! And that was frustrating. But now that the Bucs are miserable again, it's sort of nice to sail under the radar. Yes, we have a new coach who is young and inexperienced, who says too much in interviews, who struggles with clock management. And yes we've fired two newly-hired coordinators, gone through 3 quarterback and 3 kickers, and had our ex-kicker and our current star receiver badmouth us in the press. But the truth is, I don't think many people are paying attention. Kind of a blessing this year.
But I thought this week's game might be a little different. After all, two 2009 first-round draft pick QBs were going head to head: Joshy Freeman vs. Mark Sanchize. (Digression: I love Mark Sanchez's nickname and sort of wish Freeman had a similarly catchy moniker. Josh Freemanofthefuture? Oh My Josh He's The Bucs' Star QB Freeman? I'll work on it...)
The Jets moved up in the draft to pick Sanchez, but Rex Ryan had also worked out Freeman. As for the Bucs, they felt so confident that Freeman was a future-star, they traded up a single pick just to nab him. The two QBs and first-overall pick Matt Stafford of the Detroit Lions are likely going to be mentioned in the same breathe for the rest of their careers (Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, anyone?), so this was going to be an interesting first glimpse into who got the better deal.
But, like Jets Chick mentioned, Sanchez is out this week, and Kellen Clemens is playing instead. Which means that the one compelling storyline of the game is no more. And lest you think Sanchez's absence will level the playing field significantly, it bears noting that the Bucs have lost the past two games to backup QBs (vs. Atlanta and Carolina). Also, like Freeman, Sanchez has struggled with interceptions this year--and the Bucs defense could have used a few Sanchez picks to keep their team in the game. As is, the Jets will probably run Thomas Jones all day against a Bucs D that doesn't exactly have a history of stopping the run effectively.
Not to mention the fact that Sanchez's absence does nothing to diminish the Jets' ranking as #2 in total defense in the NFL. They are #1 in passing yards allowed per game and #4 in scoring allowed--which is especially dire considering the fact that last week the Bucs earned only 6 points on 6 trips to the red zone against a Panthers team that is ranked #18 in scoring allowed. And though the Jets are only #17 in rushing yards allowed (I say only, though the Bucs are ranked #31), top Bucs running back Cadillac Williams is listed as doubtful for the game due to a back injury.
I say, Bucs and Jets fans, let's keep this one between ourselves.
Cross-published at chicksinthehuddle.com.