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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For Bucs-Dolphins, mental grind of 16 straight may be toughest

Roy Cummings

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photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire
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TAMPA – No one can deny that the NFL’s very wise Hurricane Irma-induced decision to put family and safety first and move the Buccaneers-Dolphins season opener to their shared bye week in November has left the players on those teams with a daunting physical challenge.

The mental challenge those players are now dealing with could prove to be just as daunting, however.

The mere thought of playing 16 games in a row is already freaking a lot of the players out. At least in Tampa on Wednesday, it was the talk of the locker room and most of the players, as you might expect, were lamenting the fact they now must try to get through a full NFL season without the work break they’ve become accustomed to.

To be fair, there were a few who posed more or less dissenting opinions. Though clearly not happy about the situation, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and quarterback Jameis Winston agreed that this is simply the hand they’ve been dealt and that the best way to deal with it is to approach it like the “pros’’ they are and do what they’re paid to do, which is “play ball.’’

You get the feeling, though, that for a lot of the players, perhaps even the majority, the idea of playing so many games in a row will be weighing on their minds and possibly even effecting the way they practice or play from this point on. And that’s in spite of the fact that neither team was slated to have a week off until Week 11 in the first place.

The real challenge for the players then is to try to approach the first two and a half months of the season, at least, as if nothing has changed. That, in fact, will almost certainly be what Bucs coach Dirk Koetter urges his players to do upon their return to work next week, because that’s how he intends to approach that stretch.

“Our Bye Week was going to be until Week 11, and it’s not like I was going to try to save up any time for Week 11 before (this happened), so why would I do it now,’’ Koetter said. “I mean, don’t know what’s going to happen between now and then, so we’ll just see how it all goes.’’

Koetter added that typically, he and other coaches usually begin shortening their practices and making them a tad lighter late in the season anyway and that he will almost certainly do that this year in keeping with a lesson he learned back in the day from Jack Del Rio.

“When I first came into the league (with the Jaguars) I was working for Jack Del Rio, a former player, and his whole deal was, ‘Get the players to the game fresh,’’’ Koetter said. “So we always try to do that here. We try to do it at training camp and we will try to do it in Week 11. But I’m going to be worried about Week 11 then. Right now, I’m worried about Week Two.’’

Koetter would like his players to be thinking the same way and some probably are. Many, however, will have a hard time getting the grind ahead out of their mind, but perhaps they can find some solace in the fact that they won’t be the first to go through such an ordeal.

After first adopting the 16-game schedule in 1978, the NFL went 21 years without giving the players a bye week to rest up physically and re-energize themselves mentally.

Granted, the game has changed a lot in the 27 years since then. It’s faster now and in some ways more physical and wisely the NFL has made changes to accommodate for that.

Adding the bye week was one of those changes, but as Koetter pointed out, playing 16 straight has been done before and the best way for the players to deal with it is to get the negatives associated with it out of their minds.

“We’ve got to adjust and we’ve got to deal with it,’’ he said. “I mean, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. Again, this isn’t going to affect us one bit until we get to Week 11.

“And if we’re 10-0 at that time, we’d probably want to keep playing anyway. If we’re 0-10, I probably won’t be standing here. But let’s just be real about it. We’ve got a hurricane, so let’s deal with that and then move on.’’

 

 

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Report- Bucs aren’t trading tight end OJ Howard

Florida Football Insiders

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have begun to struggle with three losses in their last four games while on a bye week. However, a report Thursday says they’re not looking to sell off one of their premium young players before the trade deadline.

Despite inquiries from other teams, former first-round pick tight end O.J. Howard apparently will not be on the move.

That’s according to ESPN Buccaneers reporter, Jenna Laine, who went on Tampa Bay radio Thursday and said as much, and then repeated it on social media:

There have been numerous reports of teams inquiring about the third-year tight end from Alabama whose had a disappointing 2019 so far. Howard, known for his size and agility in the passing game, has only 13 catches for 176 yards and no TDs in the first six Tampa Bay games.

And in the last 2 weeks, Howard had only one catch in New Orleans and just two catches in London in the loss to the Panthers. In both games, he did not catch a pass in the second half.

Now, In fairness, Tampa Bay does have a lot of pass-catching weapons starting with receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and Howard’s fellow tight end Cameron Brate. Brate is one of the personal favorite targets of quarterback Jameis Winston, especially on third down and in the redzone, where he caught a TD last week.

Howard, who was taken 19th overall in the 2017 draft, is in the third year of his deal that is paying him $1.5 million this season. He is slated to make $2 million next year and there is a fifth year option on his rookie deal, as well.

And while that makes him attractive to another team from a salary standpoint, it’s the same for the Bucs, their GM Jason Licht (who drafted Howard) and their long-term plans for the roster and the cap.

Howard has also finished his first two seasons on IR with ankle injuries near the end of them, as well.

The Bucs will come off the bye and play the Titans in Nashville, and a loss would drop them to 2-5 and only fuel speculation more that they might look to trade off a player or two before the end of the month.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs repeated blunders lead to London defeat

Florida Football Insiders

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Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Despite traveling over 4000 miles to London, it was a day to forget for the Bucs in their rematch with the Panthers on Sunday. Tampa Bay and QB Jameis Winston had enough misuses for a month of football, including 7 turnovers, as they dropped a 37 – 26 defeat at the hands of Carolina.

Winston was the biggest culprit, as he threw five interceptions (a career high) and also lost a number fumble in what was one of his worst performances of his five year career. And, even though his final stat line showed a 400 yards passing, Winston, with shaky from the very beginning. He threw an interception on the first play of the game to Panthers DB James Bradberry. This while trying to hit WR Mike Evans (catchless last week) over the middle.

Carolina only got a field goal though to make the game 3-0. And, after two Bucs punts on the next two possessions, Carolina marched 99 yards and ended up with in a short Christian Mccaffery one yard TD and a 10 – 0 lead.

One of the few breaks the Bucs got at Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium Sunday came when Carolina punt returner Ray Ray McCloud fumbled early in the second and Tampa Bay recovered. A short time later, Ronald Jones got the Buccaneers on the board with a five yard score to close the Carolina lead to 10-7.

Little did the Bucs, Winston and coach Bruce Arians know that it would be the closest they would get the rest of the day.

Later in the second, Winston had his arm hit by the Panthers Bruce Irvin and his pass was picked, again. And, it set up McCaffery’s second TD, a 25 yard catch and run to make it 17-7 Carolina in the half.

Then, after halftime,  the Bucs punted on their first possession and then, after a Panthers field goal made it 20-7, Winston once again threw a bad pass over the middle for his third interception of the game. This one to Pro Bowl LB Luke Kuechley, who ran it down to the Bucs 8 yard line. Next, WR Curtis Samuel scored on a handoff and at 27-7, the issue was basically decided.

Yes, the Bucs continued to scrap and Winston actually got them in the endzone  twice in the fourth quarter and finished with 400 yards passing, on the number. However, most of that was against softer coverage while Carolina led big in the second half.

Besides the five INTS, Winston also fumbled away another red zone scoring opportunity after he was hit and sacked. Then, a fourth quarter Bobo Wilson muffed punt led to Panthers field goal and the game back to an easy double digit lead. Again, -6 in the turnover margin was as horrific as it gets for Tampa Bay.

The Panthers are now rolling, including second year QB Kyle Allen getting his fourth straight win in relief of the injured Cam Newton. Plus, Carolina got their revenge from a loss a month ago in Charlotte by winning in their first ever trip to the U.K.

However, this day was more about a Bucs offense, and Winston specifically, that both looked so good in a 55-40 win two weeks ago in L.A. doing the exact opposite for most of this Sunday in a bad defeat.

Tampa Bay now stands 2-4 headed to their bye and knows that the turnovers must stop, or the year will get more sour and very quickly.

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