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This is the NFL. Life is typically never easy and nothing is ever perfect. We've all heard the recycled clichés about "getting better every week" and "" over and over again.

But while those may be clichés, they're true. Teams always have to work in order to properly prepare for a game, no matter the opponent. They also have to be ready to execute from the jump. Digging a hole is essentially digging a grave.

And that's especially true in the postseason, which begins this week. The Buccaneers clinched the NFC's No. 2 seed on Sunday with their win over the Panthers and the Rams' loss to the 49ers, but it didn't come without a fight in regard to the Panthers. The Bucs also nearly squandered a shot at the No. 2 seed in Week 17 before storming back to beat the Jets.

Tampa Bay's last two regular season performances have been filled with slow starts and alarmingly bad execution, especially on defense. When you combine that with the level of opponents they faced in Weeks 17 and 18, it becomes clear as to why the Bucs need to get better in a hurry. 

"It's not perfect, I'll say that," Tom Brady told CBS' Tracy Wolfson after the  Panthers game. "We've got work to do."

The first three drives of Sunday's contest resulted in 48 total net yards and just two first downs for the Bucs. Two of the three drives gained no more than five yards, with three yards being the floor. Tampa Bay couldn't get anything going until the final drive of the first half. They were able to push ahead, 10-7, at halftime, but trailed for the nearly the entire duration of the game's first 30 minutes.

If Sunday were a playoff game, the Bucs would've easily found themselves in an awfully precarious position.

"The first three possessions were just awful, awful, crap, we can’t let that happen from here on out," Rob Gronkowski told reporters after the game. "We’ve got to play good football. Even if we don’t go three-and-out, we got to at least get some yards, at least some first downs on the first couple possessions to get us rolling.

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"Every game from here on out is do-or-die, it’s going to be the playoffs. That’s going to hurt us big time if we go out there and we have three drives for 20 yards in the playoffs. We got to clean that up, big time."

In Week 17, it was the defense that got off to a bad start. Todd Bowles' crew gave up back-to-back touchdown drives of 72 and 74 net yards to start the game, resulting in a 14-10 deficit that eventually lead to a 17-10 halftime deficit for the Bucs. 

And then the defense gave up a touchdown on its first series of the third quarter after the Bucs offense gained just two yards on its first six plays of the second half. Before Tampa Bay could blink it was down, 24-10, in the third quarter, to one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Tampa Bay simply can't afford this to happen when the Eagles come to town during Wild Card Weekend. They can't afford it to happen throughout the postseason, at all.

If you go back and look at the Bucs' Super Bowl run last year, Tampa Bay never got off to a slow in start in any of its playoff games. The Bucs led Washington, 18-7, at halftime, had a 10-6 lead on the Saints in the second quarter before going into halftime tied at 13, buried the Packers, 21-10, during the first half of the NFC Championship Game, and dismantled the Chiefs, 21-6, during the first two quarters of Super Bowl LV. 

It's absolutely imperative the Bucs figure out a way to start games on the right foot and it's imperative they figure it out now. 

On both sides of the ball.

“We’re going to have to play our best game of the year, I mean this is our toughest opponent all year," Brady told reporters after the game. "You know, we’re playing a team that’s very talented and made it to this point for a reason. We have to do everything we have to do to get the win – this is a football team that has been playing really well – good on offense, they have a very good defense, good front, very healthy – it’s going to be a very tough game.”

Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and other NFL news and analysis. Follow along on social media at @SIBuccaneers on Twitter and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.