Winning season without playoffs bittersweet for Buccaneers
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't playing the ''what if'' game.
The team's first winning record in six years wasn't good enough to get them into the playoffs, however coach Dirk Koetter isn't spending a lot time lamenting what might have been if a play or two had gone differently during a 9-7 finish.
Instead, he and general manager Jason Licht are focused on continuing to build around young quarterback Jameis Winston, the first player to throw for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons.
''What I told the team is: `Only one team takes home the ring, and this year, it's not going to be us.' So, even though we had improvement in a lot of areas, some huge improvement in some areas, ultimately, (it's) not what we're shooting for,'' Koetter said.
''I do think we came close to achieving the potential of this team. Close, but not quite. I think the future is very bright,'' the coach added. ''Obviously, there is going to be change. There always is in the NFL. We need to embrace that change, and just know that it is coming.''
Winston made strides this season, with first-time Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate combining to catch 20 of his franchise-record 28 touchdown passes.
But the Bucs also could benefit from adding a speedy receiver opposite the 6-foot-5 Evans to help stretch defenses and give the team someone capable of turning a short throw into a big play.
Running back may be a priority in free agency or the draft, as well, following the suspension of Doug Martin for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs.
Martin began serving a four-game ban last week and said he planned to seek help in a treatment facility. The Bucs, who signed to a five-year, $37.75 million contract last winter, are not speculating about his future.
What Koetter will say is Winston needs additional help around him.
''We need more speed and when we say playmakers, playmakers and explosive plays are one in the same. Guys that can make explosives, guys that can catch a 10-yard pass, break one tackle and turn it into a 30-yard gain,'' the coach said. ''Our run after the catch is not where it needs to be.''
Koetter, promoted from offensive coordinator to first-time NFL head coach when Lovie Smith was fired a year ago, also is considering giving up play-calling duties.
The coach stressed he's not in a hurry to make a decision, but noted one of the benefits of stepping from that role is it would free time to handle other responsibilities associated with being a head coach.
''I think all the time, how can I, in the stuff that I control, make us better and are there places where I am making us worse? I learned as a head coach, I'd love to have more time to get involved with individual players on a daily basis,'' he said.
''I enjoy the motivational part of trying to reach guys and different groups on the team,'' he added. ''As far as my schedule goes, I am asking myself all the time, are the things I have to spend my time on, are those in the best interest of helping the Bucs win games or am I spinning my wheels on stuff that doesn't really matter.''
Some things the Bucs need to do to have a chance to become a playoff team:
PROTECT THE BALL: The team made strides defensively, especially during a five-game winning streak that turned the season around, however Koetter felt there would have been even more improvement if not for the offense's propensity for turning the ball over in its own territory. Winston tossed 18 interceptions, up from 15 as a rookie, and Tampa Bay lost nine fumbles.
RUN IT BETTER: The absence of a consistent running attack increased the burden on Winston to carry the Bucs offensively. Martin missed eight games, six with a hamstring injury that contributed to him averaging less than 3 yards per carry after finishing second in the NFL in rushing behind Adrian Peterson in 2015. His backup, Charles Sims, missed significant playing time because of injuries, too, after rushing for 529 yards and catching 51 passes for another 561 yards last season.
REMAIN HUMBLE: Winston, who threw for a team-record 4,090 yards, promises a mostly young roster will not get complacent. Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy doesn't expect that to be a problem, either.
''We have to continue to get better. We have to continue to expect to win rather than hoping to win,'' Winston said.
''That's great that we had a winning season, but guys are not really happy about what we're doing right now,'' McCoy said. ''We thought we had a lot of opportunities we missed out on. It was a better season, but we know we should be getting ready to play again (in the playoffs). Nobody's really happy about that.''
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL