It's about time that the rest of the NFL starts paying attention to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as legitimate playoff contenders.
Coach Greg Schiano's bunch won its third straight game Sunday, 34-24 over the San Diego Chargers, to move to 5-4 on the season. In a back-and-forth game, the Buccaneers won largely because they had the steadier quarterbacks.
Philip Rivers threw an inexcusable interception across his body while he was running out bounds, and it was returned by Leonard Johnson 83 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Two possessions later, Rivers threw another pass with poor mechanics that was picked off by the Bucs. That undid a great first half by Rivers.
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman's numbers weren't as flashy, but he was the more composed quarterback with 210 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 attempts. Freeman was very patient in the pocket setting up a 54-yard toss to Mike Williams. He delivered on tough throws to kill the clock late in the game.
The Buccaneers are an ascending team, while the Chargers continue to show they can't win in tough spots. Now 4-5, the Denver Broncos essentially can put the AFC West out reach by beating the Chargers next week in Denver. We don't expect the Chargers to be in the playoff mix by the end of next week.
The Bucs, on the other hand, should be making noise until the end of the season.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.