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Bucs surrender NFC South race

TAMPA, Fla. – At long last, Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith threw out the white flag on Monday.

With his team officially out of a crazy NFC South race after hanging on the fringes most of the season, Smith admitted that things will be different in the last three weeks of the season.

“There’s no Destination Phoenix [site of the Super Bowl] or anything like that," Smith said. "A different mindset as far as all that being off the table. Now it’s about a three-game season for us, a one-game season as far as playing better football against the defending champions [the Carolina Panthers] in our division.’’

Although it has been a foregone conclusion that the Bucs wouldn’t win the NFC South, Smith repeatedly said his team was still in the race. Now that the Bucs are finally mathematically out of it, Smith talked about the possibility of playing young players in the final three weeks of the season.

Smith wouldn’t answer directly when asked if it’s possible that second-year quarterback Mike Glennon might finish the season in place of veteran Josh McCown. But there’s an argument to be made that the Bucs need to see more of Glennon before deciding if he can be the quarterback of the future.

“We’re going to do what gives us the best chance to win,’’ Smith said. “If playing a player at a position won’t hurt our football team to win the football game, we’ll always look at that. But we haven’t made it that far. We haven’t even started looking at video of Carolina yet. But we won’t give up a game just to put a player in a situation like that. I would like to think that if there’s a young player that we haven’t played, when you go through a 2-11 season, you would have looked at that option a little earlier. I don’t think we have a lot of those situations around.’’

Although he has given up on winning the division, Smith was optimistic about the future. He said he knew there might be some tough times ahead when he took the job in January.

“Life takes you on different turns,’’ Smith said. “But they’re temporary from what I’ve found. This bad taste in our mouth will be there a little longer, but it eventually will get out of our mouth. As I came here back in January, there was a reason why I came here, knowing that, normally, you have to crawl before you walk. You have to go through some adversity. We’ve gotten that part out of the way now. Now, I’m anxious to take that next step. Eventually, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will win a whole bunch of football games around here. I guess it’s just a part of the process you have to go through.’’