ATLANTA — Well, at least this is for certain: Raheem Morris isn’t stupid.
Might he be considered a little crazy? Eh, perhaps. Could he be called impatient? Sure, that’s possible, too.
May he be too quick-triggered in complimenting his growing, young team? He most definitely is.
The energetic, optimistic 34-year-old second-year head coach learned a rude, but welcome lesson this week as he led his up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the steady, consistent, workman-like Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome.
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For his sake, he better take careful notice of it, too.
Entering the contest between tied, division- and conference-leading NFC South foes, Morris let his lips serve as kerosene to the Falcons’ already flammable motivations.
Last week, with the Buccaneers still high off a win over the Arizona Cardinals, Morris publicly praised his bunch, heralding them as the “best” team in the NFC.
Immediately, the comments were criticized, scrutinized and analyzed. Very few pundits agreed with Morris’ sentiments, as most rendered the statements pithy hyperbole, uttered with very little fact and little evidence to back them up.
Their arguments went as follows: nailbiting wins over mediocre Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Arizona teams wasn’t very convincing. Neither were the Buccaneers’ blowout losses to actual contenders New Orleans — a 25-point loss — and Pittsburgh — a 15-point loss.
It’s hard to debate any of those points.
All of that said, however, with the attention of the football world upon it, Tampa Bay really only needed to do one thing to remove the “pretender” label from its collective lapel, and join the rest of the big boys. The Buccaneers just had to beat the Falcons in Atlanta to prove that, as of now, they were the conference’s best.
But that didn’t happen. Thanks to a stingy goal line defensive stand and a dominating ground game performance, the Falcons made sure of as much. Atlanta won 27-21.
Pretenders, it’s time to be quiet.
At least be quiet for now.
“They’re a well-coached team; a team with a lot of confidence,” Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson said of the Buccaneers. “If you watch their games, they’re a team, they’ve been down in the fourth quarter a lot and they found a way to win football games. They’re a team where they don’t get rattled, they just keep playing hard. We just made one more play than they did (Sunday.”
Robinson, like Morris, is far from stupid. He sees that that Tampa Bay is well on its way, and that one year after finishing his inaugural season 3-13, Morris actually has the ship headed in the right direction in South Florida.
That still, however, doesn’t excuse the fact that for now, the talk has to stop. The Buccaneers have not yet arrived, no matter how close they seem to be getting.
“They did all their talking (before the game) and we’ll see them again,” Atlanta defensive end John Abraham said. “We’ve got another game left to play against them. I wish them luck the rest of the year, but we’re going to move on.”
While these Falcons — the same steady group that picked up the franchise’s first back-to-back winning seasons last year and looks poised this year to quietly make it three in-a-row — moves on, it appears the Buccaneers are doing so, as well, with that important lesson now learned.
“Well, we can’t say we are the best team right now,” Morris said. “We do not have the least amount of losses, so that would not be an accurate statement by me this week.”
Again, Morris may be crazy. He may be impatient. He may even be a little trigger-happy on praise.
But stupid he ain’t.
Contact Coley Harvey at 744-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org