Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: NFL thinks Bucs aren't prime-time ready. It's wrong.

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Where's the love, NFL? Where's the respect?

One day after the Bucs were named to be the featured team on HBO's Hard Knocks, the NFL schedule-maker gave them a harder knock.

Two prime-time games next season.

Two?! That's it? Two?

This, as much as anything, tells you what the NFL thinks of the Bucs.

Not quite ready for prime time.

While most of us look at the Bucs and see an up-and-coming team with great potential, the NFL sees them and thinks "1 p.m. on Sunday.''

How disappointing. How rude.

What do we get?

One Thursday night game. Big deal. Everybody gets a Thursday night game. Even the Browns. Even the Jaguars. If somehow Rice University was put in the NFL, it would get a Thursday night game.

That the Bucs' Thursday night game is against the defending-champion Patriots makes it even worse. It seems like a cruel joke.

Yeah, swell, give the Bucs their one Thursday night game and make them play the best team of our generation. Thanks a bunch.

The Bucs also get a Monday night game late in the season against the Falcons. That might be the one the game all season that makes the nation really sit up and takes notice of Tampa Bay.

Unless another game late in the season is critical enough to be flexed into Sunday night, that's it for prime-time Bucs games.

What a shame.

No Sunday Night Football, the biggest game of the week. No Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

In fact, don't expect too much Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Don't expect too much Jim Nantz and Tony Romo. We get the B announcing teams. Or worse.

I don't get it. I realize the Bucs aren't a marquee team with a huge national following. They aren't the Cowboys or Steelers or Packers or Giants.

Still, they seem to have the "it'' factor, don't they?

You know what I mean. Certain teams out there have the "it'' factor. They have explosive offenses and exciting players. They have charismatic personalities and wonderful characters.

Whether it's the precise execution of Tom Brady or the crazy legs of Ezekiel Elliott or the ruggedness of Ben Roethlisberger or the coolness of Aaron Rodgers, the it-factor teams have players you have to watch.

Whether its the domination of J.J. Watt or the ball-hawking skills of Xavier Rhodes or the scary hitting of Kam Chancellor, these teams have must-see-TV players.

Whether its Odell Beckham losing his mind on the sideline or Richard Sherman talking smack, these teams have players you can't help but watch.

Well, don't the Bucs have such players? Don't they have players fans want to watch? Don't they have "it?''

Jameis Winston has put up two years' worth of solid numbers and just enough victories that he appears to be on his way to stardom. Year 3 — this year — could be the season he goes elite. Everything about him — from his pep talks to his strong-armed darts to his run-around-for-dear-life, never-say-die mentality — is entertaining. It's thrilling. It's fun. It's what football fans want, no?

Mike Evans has developed into one of the NFL's top-five receivers. He's a game-breaker. He's a superstar, a legitimate NFL superstar who looks as much at home on the cover of a magazine as he does holding a football in the corner of the end zone. And he also would look quite at home on national television a few times a year.

Evans next season will be joined by DeSean Jackson, whom Winston calls a Bentley with a Ferrari engine. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but that sounds like something a football fan would want to see on their televisions. I do know that I would want to watch a player who puts up more game-changing, long, did-you-see-that touchdowns than anybody else who suits it up in an NFL uniform. Jackson is a Madden video game come to life, accelerating so fast that you look around to see who is furiously tapping the R2 button.

The Bucs' defense has stars, too.

Gerald McCoy is a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who can wreck another team's game plan with the kinds of sacks and run stuffs that fill up highlight films.

How relentless is linebacker Lavonte David? Go grab a football out of your garage right now and there's a decent chance David will tackle you.

Cornerbacks Vernon Har­greaves and Brent Grimes are big-play players.

Doggone it, this team looks like it will be fun to watch.

Just not in prime time, apparently.

Thanks, NFL. You don't know what you're missing.

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