Bucs are the best dang team in the NFL (despite what you just saw)

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TAMPA — If you’ve been around here long enough, you know how ridiculous this seems.

Football seasons do not start off this way in Tampa Bay. Not with this many wins, not with this many points, not with this many stars. The last three times the Bucs began a season 2-0, the quarterbacks were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Freeman and Brian Griese. There wasn’t a playoff victory in the bunch.

So, yeah, this is a blast. It’s invigorating and it’s engrossing.

I’m just not sure it’s a guaranteed formula for success.

Go ahead, call me a party pooper. Tell me that fans across the world would gladly trade a vital organ to have this group of players wearing their team’s jerseys. Feel free to point out that, two weeks into the season, 75 percent of the league has already lost at least one game and Tampa Bay’s 48-25 win against the Falcons on Sunday kept the Bucs atop the NFC South.

But tell me this: Will you be happy with anything less than a Super Bowl this season?

Because that’s the only way to measure the Bucs today. A division title isn’t enough. A 12-win season isn’t enough. These guys are the defending champions, and the roster has returned virtually intact. The players are growing older, the front office will soon have salary cap issues and Tampa Bay’s window of opportunity is going to be brief.

So a Super Bowl is the standard that 2021 has to meet. And I don’t think the first two games of the season qualify.

“Loved the start, then we got lackadaisical. I liked the start of the second half. Then we got lackadaisical,” coach Bruce Arians said. “That’s not going to work next week. I think we’ve got a lot to learn from. It’s always better to learn it from winning.”

Super Bowl champions do not typically begin the season by giving up an average of 27 points a game. They also tend to run the football a little better and hold on to it a little longer. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at Tampa Bay’s four playoff wins last season. They averaged more than 31 minutes in time of possession, ran for more than 125 yards and held their opponents to 23 points or less in three of those games.

The only game they didn’t was against Green Bay, which was the game they came closest to losing.

“We’re trying to do something special as an offense this season,” receiver Mike Evans said.

That’s not just football speak. This roster is talented enough that it can do things never seen in the NFL. It’s already proven that with nine consecutive games of 30 or more points, including last year’s postseason run.

And when you see the way the Bucs began Sunday’s game with receivers running free in the secondary and Tom Brady looking like Oprah throwing gifts to whoever wants one, you start to think there isn’t a defense in the league that can slow these guys down.

But then Ryan Jensen commits an unnecessary personal foul penalty. And then Ronald Jones misses a block and nearly gets Brady crushed. And then Brady overthrows Evans on a deep route and underthrows Antonio Brown on another.

And before you know it, the Bucs are holding on to a 28-25 lead in the fourth quarter against a team that will probably finish with double-digit losses this season.

The defense ended up making enough big plays in the final minutes — Rakeem Nunez-Roches’ third-down stop and Mike Edwards’ two interception returns for touchdowns — to make the score seem like a blowout.

But the Bucs know better than to think they played a stellar game on Sunday. At least, they should know better.

“Obviously,” Brady said, “we all wish we could have done some things to be more productive.”

It’s not that the Bucs played poorly, they just didn’t play as well as they are capable. Or as well as they will need to play next week against the Rams or in January against any playoff opponent.

The young group of defensive backs already has three interceptions in two games, but they’ve also gotten burned for more than 700 yards in two games. And the offense has scored 11 touchdowns, but they haven’t proven they can kill the clock with a lead.

Look, this is a great team and I would gladly scribble that across the back of Bill Belichick’s hoodie.

But it’s not a perfect team and it’s not an invincible team. And if they keep making mistakes they are eventually going to run into an opponent that’s good enough to take advantage.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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