Eight games in the books, four up, four down. It's time for the real midseason report for these ever-improving Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After the opening win over Carolina, the Bucs lost three straight close games that could have, perhaps should have gone either way.
The one that really got away was the loss to the Redskins. Shouldn't have happened but it did.
First quarter of the season was a disappointing 1-3.
Then something happened during the bye week. This team started to figure out its identity. Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and Josh Freeman got on the same page and suddenly an offense was born.
A win over the Chiefs, another loss, this time to New Orleans then two straight wins got the lads to a respectable 4-4 after a head-turning 3-1 second quarter.
Here's the way things look heading into the final eight weeks.
Get on the bandwagon, yes, go ahead while there's still a little room. Get your No. 22 jersey before they run out. Note to NFL: increase production of Doug Martin jerseys pronto. Guys who didn't know how to spell Doug Martin are now singing and writing his praises and declared him the next big thing in the NFL.
Are you pleased with the 4-4 start?
That's nice, that's wonderful but there's still a long way to go. Right now, there's no relief for Martin as the staff may be losing even more confidence and trust in LeGarrette Blount. Martin's a machine, a threat, a force and hopefully he won't get run into the ground.
The Josh Freeman bandwagon is getting crowded as well. Those who were screaming for a new quarterback next season have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Freeman's the man, all he needed was time to prove it. He's getting better each game. He performed well under pressure in Oakland and there's nothing to indicate he won't keep improving.
Can you say "fat contract extension?"
Tiquan Underwood provided the boost to the receiving corps that has really helped both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Now Freeman has three solid options.
Erik Lorig has been a nice surprise and has taken full-speed to the fullback position. He's a big reason for Martin's ground success with some great blocks and he's another reliable short-pass option for Freeman.
If you had told me that the offensive line would lose both Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks, I would tell you that 2-6 was a probable halfway record.
What's simply amazing is Greg Schiano's ability to provide a real "next man up" mentality for this football team. Martin had his record-setting Sunday in Oakland behind a makeshift offensive line.
Overall, the Buccaneers have a solid offense that can keep them in football games. This offense was supposed to be good and it is.
Most pleasant surprise this season?
The defensive line started out behind the eight ball when Da'Quan Bowers was lost before training camp. The news got worse when Adrian Clayborn went down. Things like that are a road map to 2-6 but no, once again Schiano has plugged in players who have performed.
Michael Bennett is playing like a beast and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim is a great, pleasant surprise.
Gerald McCoy is fulfilling his potential and Roy Miller has found new life. Bowers is back and now things are looking up for the unit but they still need to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Now for the Oscar winners through eight weeks, the linebackers. Lavonte David is as good on defense as Martin is on offense. Sadly, tackles aren't as exciting as long runs. David had 16 tackles last Sunday, a Bucs rookie record. Mason Foster has been beastly as well, fulfilling his potential. He's solved the mystery as to where he should play. He fits just fine in the middle.
Even Quincy Black is performing. Black who was so horrible last year, can't help getting better, after all, he's hanging out with David and Foster.
Give great credit to the "front seven" coach Brian Cox. He's done a tremendous job.
And finally, the secondary, yes, the secondary and that's where most of the bad news is found with these 2012 Buccaneers.
You MVP at the half-season mark?
When you think about it, it's probably not a surprise that Aqib Talib is gone. He needed to be gone and getting a fourth-round draft pick for him was a thing of beauty. Note to Bucs fans: special on Talib jerseys. But one, get two free.
Equally disappointing is Eric Wright. He's facing possible suspension and he's proven fragile and at best an average NFL corner. Problem is he's being paid like a very above average corner, say, almost borderline elite corner.
Leonard Johnson, our homegrown product from nearby Largo High, has come to the rescue and this unit really is in need of rescue. E.J. Biggers is what he is, sometimes good, often times toast. But part of that problem is they just can't leave him dangling out there alone time after time. Brandon McDonald has proven a reliable nickel back but he's hurt. There's now a serious depth problem in the secondary and no, Myron Lewis is not the answer, he's the second coming of Sabby Piscatelli. He's a giant piece of toast, begging to be burnt.
Ronde Barber and Mark Barron have provided some stability, but this entire unit is shaky at best.
Right now, the Bucs are ranked dead-last in the NFL in pass defense and that's a formula for 2-6 but there they are at 4-4.
Good and bad. Connor Barth had a tough game in Oakland and needs to be VERY reliable over the final eight games. Michael Koenen has been simply marvelous, the best performer as both punter and kickoff man.
How many games will they win over the final 8?
Roscoe Parrish had a breakout game in Oakland and may now become the punt returner this team needs.
As for kickoff returner Arrelious Benn? At least he's good for something.
Overall performance of the special teams needs to improve over the final eight weeks, doesn't it?
When you take everything into consideration, when you throw in the injuries, the star players lost, the new system, new coaching staff, new everything, well 4-4 isn't bad at all.
Right now, the NFC South belongs to the 8-0 Atlanta Falcons.
Yes, these Buccaneers are a work in progress.
But there's been some really, really nice progress.
The bandwagon's growing but there are still eight tough weeks to go.