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Saints' loss keeps Bucs in NFC South hunt

TAMPA, Fla. -- His team is 2-9, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith continues to point to the NFC South standings.

He did it again Monday and he can do it again today. With New Orleans losing to Baltimore on Monday night, the Saints and Atlanta are 4-7. Carolina is 3-7-1.

"We're two games out of first place," Smith said Monday afternoon. "We are still in the playoff hunt. So there's no looking at younger players -- it's who gives us our best chance to win, period. So it's pretty easy for us right now. Forget the record right now; everyone in the NFC South is disappointed and has let games get away and feel like they're a pretty good football team -- we're right in the mix of that. So it's full steam ahead for Cincinnati [this week's opponent] for us."

Smith is right. The Bucs still are in the NFC South hunt. They have five games left to play, including contests with New Orleans and Carolina. The Bucs are facing an uphill battle, but the other three NFC South teams are struggling, so anything is possible.

The Bucs should play to win as long as they remain in contention. But Smith already is taking long looks at some younger players. He gave defensive end Jacquies Smith a start Sunday and has been playing rookie running back Charles Sims extensively.

Moves like that aren't geared toward next season. Guys like Smith and Sims are playing a lot because they've shown they give the Bucs the best chance to win now.