TAMPA, Fla. -- For weeks now, coach Greg Schiano steadfastly has said that once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started winning football games, they wouldn't stop.
We all laughed.
As it turns out, maybe the man had a point. Maybe, just maybe, Schiano will have a job next year that many expected him to lose.
The Buccaneers defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 41-28, on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. That came six days after the Bucs got a Monday night win against the Miami Dolphins for their first victory of the season.
"It's something that we can build on, for sure," Schiano said.
Let's make no mistake: The Bucs are 2-8 and Schiano remains very much on the hot seat. But that seat is a little cooler than it was a few weeks ago. It might seem hard to imagine, but maybe the billboards calling for Schiano's firing will come down, maybe fans will jump off his back and onto his bandwagon, and maybe he still will be the coach in 2014.
"We've got a lot of pride," left tackle Donald Penn said. "We've got to play for our coach. Everybody's doubting our coach. We're behind him 120 percent."
That's the very reason I've held off on joining the masses in calling for Schiano's job. I'm not saying Schiano is a great coach, and I still don't know if his ways will work in the NFL. But the fact is, he never lost the locker room during an 0-8 start. His players never stopped playing hard.
I saw Tampa Bay teams totally pack it in at the end of the Raheem Morris and Sam Wyche eras. That, along with dismal records, is why Morris and Wyche were fired.
"A lot of people could have just folded," Penn said. "We're still fighting. Hopefully, we can keep building. I'm happy. For once, I can say I'm happy."
Let's not get too carried away with the sudden happiness. Schiano's record (9-17 overall) is dismal. Schiano has lost a lot of games, but he hasn't lost his players.
That counts for a lot, in my eyes.
Schiano is still facing an uphill battle. But I can see a scenario in which he could end up sticking around. I don't know if the Glazer family, which owns the team, has some magic number of wins in mind for Schiano to keep his job. Maybe Schiano needs to run the table, win the next six games and finish 8-8. Or maybe something like winning six of the final eight games will be enough to bring Schiano back.
He does have three more years left on his contract, and ownership likely won't be eager to pay the salaries for two head coaches at once. Or maybe the Bucs lose their next six and Schiano follows the route of Bobby Petrino, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban and goes back to coaching a college program.
But the point is Schiano still has a shot in the NFL, if he can win some more games down the stretch. That no longer seems as unfathomable as it did a few weeks ago.
If the Bucs can play the rest of the way like they did Sunday, they could win more than they lose in their remaining games. It could happen.
It could happen because Gerald McCoy (three sacks on Sunday) suddenly is playing as well as any defensive tackle in the league. It could happen because the Bucs appear to have found a hidden gem in running back Bobby Rainey (163 rushing yards). It could happen because rookie quarterback Mike Glennon (only three incompletions against the Falcons) continues to get better each week.
And let's not overlook the possibility that Schiano might be starting to catch onto what the NFL is all about. Did you see the onside kick, the tailback pass and Glennon's two deep throws to Vincent Jackson? This team isn't playing nearly as conservatively as it did early in the season. Maybe Schiano is changing -- for the better.
In recent weeks, it hasn't taken too much observation to see a difference in Schiano. On the practice field, he has been joking around more with his players. When talking to the media, Schiano has seemed more relaxed, even approaching humor at times.
Maybe Schiano realized he needed to be less stubborn and stern. Maybe changing his personality and his play calling is Schiano's way of fighting for his job.
And, as long has his team keeps fighting, maybe he'll get to keep it.