What’s At Stake in the Bucs/Falcons Opener
Would you believe first place in the NFC South? Carolina’s loss to the Broncos left the early lead in the division open for the taking, so the Bucs have a chance now to get a leg up on the rest of the division and force people to take notice of them right out of the box. The Bucs have never been very good at that of course. They’ve won only two of their last 10 season openers, but they finished 10-6 in one of those seasons. Which brings us to the psychological edge that can be gained. Win this game and confidence in the process is established immediately. Lose it and doubt starts to creep in as well as the realization that now you have to win two in a row just to get above .500 again. In a 16-game season that can seem like a daunting unattainable goal and when you consider the Bucs schedule, it just might be true.
There’s a tendency to try to get creative here and say the big matchup is Bucs end Noah Spence against Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews or something a bit out of the ordinary. Can’t do it. No need to do it. The battle to watch here is Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones vs. Bucs rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. It’s hard to know how much VHIII will even be matched up against Jones but you have to think the Falcons will at least want to test the kid a bit, at least early on. Or maybe not. Opponents threw at Hargreaves eight times during the preseason and he allowed only one catch for 2 yards while picking off a pair of passes and knocking another down. Given those numbers, that Spence-Matthews matchup may be the one to watch after all.
Buccaneer to watch
Cecil Shorts originally came to the Bucs as replacement for fifth receiver Evan Spencer, but he was immediately put into the No. 4 slot in the rotation behind Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Adam Humphries. Shorts has had to cram to learn the offense this week but he’s going to play today and he may prove to be big contributor. Something tells me he could be this team’s Keenan McCardell.
It doesn’t count of course and it’s hard to say what it really means in the big scheme of things, but the Bucs were an absolute force defensively during the preseason. They led the NFL in sacks with 16, allowed the fewest passing yards per game (113.5) and ranked second in total yards allowed (237.8).
He said it
“Last year we were still in that phase where Jameis was turning it over three or four times every day. He’s not doing that now. That doesn’t mean we’re never going to have a turnover, but I’m confident Jameis can go out there and instead of playing defensive, we can be on the attack a little more.” – Bucs coach Dirk Koetter on the difference a year has made with QB Jameis Winston.
(Catch Roy’s thoughts/takes from Atlanta after the game here and also see him as part of the “Bucs Bonus” recap show with Dan Lucas and Paul Ryan on WFLA-TV News Channel 8 at 11:30 p.m. Sunday Night).