This was supposed to be the year for the 4-year-old Seattle Seahawks to make their run for the National Football League playoffs. But after the first two weeks of the season, it's their expansion twin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are 2-0 and overflowing with confidence.
After going 0-14, 2-12 and 5-11 in their first three seasons, the Buccaneers have swashbuckled their way past the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts. The Bucs say it is no fluke.
"It's just a shame that we haven't ever been on Monday night football and won't be again this season," linebacker David Lewis said, "because then everybody could see for themselves how good we are, and I wouldn't have to keep telling them."
The Bucs were impressive in their 31-16 opening-game victory over the Lions.But when they rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Colts, 29-26, in overtime Sunday, it illustrated how good they might be.
It was the first time Tampa Bay had ever won a game after trailing more than a touchdown.
The Bucs sacked Baltimore quarterback Greg Landry 10 times, another club record.
The Bucs always have been defensively sound. They were fourth in total defense last season and a respectable 13th two years ago. Now, with quarterback Doug Williams, they are potent offensively, too.
"Seventeen points isn't that far to come back from," Lewis said. "Not when you have a Doug Williams. We believe in his arm because with it we know we can strike from anywhere on the field. It's only a question of when it will happen."
Williams has thrown four touchdown passes this season. The only black starting quarterback in the NFL, the 6-foot-4 Williams is a second-year man from Grambling. The Bucs' offensive leader, he gets most of the media attention, but has plenty of talent surrounding him.
"Everyone on this team believes in each other, too," Williams said. "In the past when we got down, guys would say, 'Let's roll over and get the game over with.' Now we say, 'Let's go ahead and win this thing.' The confidence was always there with the defense. Now we have it with the offense, too."
"Attitude is the biggest thing different about this team," said defensive end LeRoy Selmon, an original Buccaneer."Confidence is so important and the win over Baltimore is an indication of that. This team is different from all the past Tampa Bay teams. We don't just hope to win; we know we will.
"The Baltimore game is probably the biggest win in the history of the team because of how we won. This is what we've been building for all these years. We have a real winning football team now."
Lewis, who played for Tampa Coach John McKay at Southern California, said the early season Buccaneer success doesn't surprise him.
"We had 40 out of 45 guys stay in Tampa in the offseason and work out together," he said. "All of that work has carried over."
One big play illustrated the Bucs' sophistication. Early in the fourth quarter against the Colts, Tampa had a third and two at the Baltimore 37 and a 20-17 lead. Williams faked a handoff to Ricky Bell, then lofted a perfect pass to rookie wide receiver Gordon Jones, alone behind the surprised Colt secondary. He scored easily.
"We just never had the talent before to try that sort of thing," McKay said. "The receiver would have fallen down and the quarterback would have gotten killed."
Jones is not the only rookie starting for the Bucs. Greg Roberts, from Oklahoma, starts at right guard and Arkansas' Jerry Eckwood at halfback. Eckwood has rushed 174 yeards in his first two professional games.
With Eckwood's emergence, Bell has been moved from halfback to fullback, where he is happier and more effective.
McKay has made other bold moves. He switched Charley Hannah from defensive end to offensive tackle, traded nose tackle Dave Pear to Oakland for two draft choices, moved Bill Kollar from defensive end to nose tackle and put Wally Chambers at defensive end.
But it is Williams the Bucs count on for a winning season. He can throw as far, if not farther, than any other NFL quarterback, and despite his low completion percentage, he throws few interceptions and isn't sacked often.
In 10 games last year Williams threw only eight interceptions and was sacked only six times. He has thrown two interceptions this year, and hasn't been sacked.
Last season he completed only 37.6 percent of his passes and this season has hit on only 14 of 45.
That doesn't worry McKay.
"I could have Doug come up with a great percentage, but I don't want him throwing those three-inch passes," McKay said. "I'll call three or four bombs a game, even though I know the chances of completing them are slim, because I want the defense to know we will throw them, and I want them to think about that."
The Bucs are pushovers no longer.