Mired in a season-long, four-game losing slump and their playoff destiny out of their hands for the first time this season, the Tampa Bay Storm are focusing this week on the one thing they can control:
The Storm (6-10) have two games remaining in the regular season and will complete the home portion of their schedule Saturday against the Los Angeles KISS during Fan Appreciation Night at Amalie Arena (kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.).
Tampa Bay can still qualify for the postseason but will need help. The Storm must win out and hope Cleveland drops its final two games. The Gladiators host Spokane on Saturday and Philadelphia in the regular season finale. Both Spokane and Philadelphia have already locked up playoff berths.
Cleveland is a game up on Tampa Bay in the American Conference standings and, should the two teams finish the season tied, own the tiebreaker having won two of three meetings against the Storm.
The Storm, however, aren’t concerned with how many games they need to win to make the playoffs or scoreboard watching for Cleveland results.
The Storm are focused on correcting the mistakes from four-straight losses that have the team teetering on the edge of playoff elimination.
“For us, it’s about execution,” Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “We didn’t execute on both sides of the ball [in a 63-16 loss last week to Jacksonville]. The only bright spot was special teams. We did a little bit better than we usually do, but we have to execute everywhere. Execution is the key for us.”
The theme this week at Storm practice is redemption. The team was embarrassed by its performance last week. The Storm had already beaten the Sharks twice in the regular season, including a 35-point drubbing in Week 6. Perhaps feeling overconfident by previous results, the Storm fell behind early in meeting No. 3 in Jacksonville and scored a season-low 16 points in a dismal loss.
“There are no excuses for the last couple of weeks,” Samuels said. “We haven’t been playing well, especially last week. We did not show up. Guys are anxious to come out and redeem themselves…I’m looking forward to having a good, clean, crisp practice week and getting after [Los Angeles] this weekend.”
Defensive lineman Dexter Jackson said the Storm only have themselves to blame for their current predicament.
“We have no choice but to respond,” he said. “We put ourselves in this position, letting a couple games go this year when we didn’t finish out games, so we’ve got to come out there and control. We can control these two games. They’re must wins, and we’re going to focus on L.A. first and try to handle our business right there and whatever happens, happens.”
The key to getting into the playoffs, Storm quarterback Jason Boltus said, is to focus on the present without worrying about the future.
“The bottom line is we have to take it one game at a time, one quarter at a time, one play at a time,” he said. “Just be 1-0 on that play, 1-0 on the quarter and just try to come out of the week 1-0. Win your one-on-one matchup, win the play, win the quarter, win the game.”
The KISS (4-12) are also in a fight for their playoff lives, battling Las Vegas and Portland for the final spot in the National Conference.
The Storm expect to receive L.A.’s best shot on Saturday.
“They call it a trap game,” Jackson said. “We can trap ourselves by not respecting L.A. because they only have a couple victories this year, and we can fall into losing to them and knocking our own self out. So, at the end of the day, we’ve got to come out, we’ve got to focus on L.A. They’re a great team. They play tough defense and they’ve got a pretty good offense. They’ve got [wide receiver] Donovan Morgan over there. He can strike at any time, so we’ve got to come out and have respect for them and play our game.”
Samuels said he expects a much better effort from the Storm than the one the team put together a week ago in Jacksonville, especially in front of a home crowd that will see the Storm for the last time in 2015.
“I think there was only one other game we weren’t really competitive and it was the Philly game, and guys bounced back,” Samuels said. “We’re a very resilient team. I think that the way we performed last week, guys were a little bit embarrassed, myself included. That’s one of the things that we just want to come out and just redeem ourselves and play much better football that we know we’re capable of doing.”