Legendary coach Vince Lombardi famously coined the phrase “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
While that mantra is easier to say than it is to live by, certainly Lombardi backed it up with the amount of games and Championships his Packers won.
Now, onto the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that hasn’t done very much winning, especially recently.
The Bucs are coming off of back-to-back losing seasons and firing their fourth head coach (Dirk Koetter) in the last 8 years. And, they’ve only had two winning season since firing Jon Gruden in 2009.
Further, for quarterback Jameis Winston, he has been given essentially one year to prove that he can make Tampa Bay into a playoff contending team or Winston will likely be somewhere else. That’s Bucs ownership and GM Jason Licht decided to bring Winston back on the fifth year option of his rookie contract for just under $21 million.
So, while Winston got a humongous raise, there is no long term commitment beyond this season.
That led us to Tuesday afternoon and Winston meeting with the media during the Bucs offseason workouts, where he made it very clear that he understands, if there is to be a future for him in Tampa Bay, it’s tied to the amount of winning this season:
“We don’t want to view this as a rebuilding year, it’s not going to be that. We’re going to go out there and play good football and be a great team."
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) April 9, 2019
Specifically, Winston talked at length about the Bucs weapons on offense and he knows that there will be expectations because of what they have:
“You look at the years, our offense has been producing here and there. We’ve always been in the top 10 so now he’s just getting these weapons and he’s using them the way that he wants to use them and we’re excited. Like I said, it’s not about rebuilding. We’re about to go out there and make some noise.”
Obviously, part of that “noise” is new coach Bruce Arians. Arians has lengthy experience in working with former star quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and most recently, with Carson Palmer in Arizona. His track record speaks for itself in terms of those quarterbacks, their teams and the successes they have had, including the postseason.
So that’s the expectation of what Arians, and his offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, will bring to Winston in terms of guidance and leaning on past success. And, even though Winston is only had one winning season out of his first four, with a career record of 21-33, there is a lot of winning before his Buccaneer days.
He had tremendous success at Florida State, where he won the Heisman Trophy and they won the BCS National Championship going 13-0 in 2013 to draw off of. Plus, you couple that with having won an Alabama high school state championship with an undefeated team, and no one can deny Winston knew how to win when he came to the NFL.
Now, he, Arians, and everyone with the Buccaneers know what has to be done- put together a lot of wins in 2019, or else, for the QB.
Saints bad injury news is good for Bucs- Evans matchup
As the Bucs get set the host of first place Saints Sunday, Tampa Bay has caught a break with a key injury in New Orleans secondary. This after the Saints have already ruled out defensive back Marshon Lattimore due to a hamstring injury.
Coach Sean Payton informed the media after Saints practice that Lattimore, who left last week’s game with Atlanta with the injury, will not be able to suit up, specifically to go one-on-one against Bucs WR Mike Evans.
And, former first round pick Lattimore has usually gotten the better of the head-to-head matchups over the past three seasons (above) with Evans. This would include the game in New Orleans earlier this year, when the Saints/Lattimore held Evans without a reception for the first time in over four seasons.
However, Evans has been coming on since then, including back-to-back games against the Titans and the Seahawks where he had over 175 five yards receiving and two touchdowns in each. A week ago, the former number one pick finished with four catches for 82 yards in the Bucs 30 – 27 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
New Orleans may likely put former #1 pick Eli Apple on Evans, now, for much of the game.
Payton also ruled out starting offensive guard Andrus Peat due to a fractured forearm, which further complicates a run game with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray that has yet to get on track this season.
Meanwhile for Tampa Bay, they will be without pass rusher Carl Nassib for the second straight game due to a groin injury and Coach Bruce Arians also told the media that defensive back M.J. Stewart will not play due to an injured knee.
The Buccaneers secondary is in flux after releasing former number 1 pick Vernon Hargreaves earlier in the week but it is expected that rookies Sean Murphy Bunting and Jamel Dean will see action in Hargreaves is place against Drew Brees in the high-powered Saints offense. Dean had the critical interception of Kyler Murray late in the game last week, which led to the Bucs eventually game winning TD drive.
Bucs have no reason to doubt this Thomas Sunday
The Bucs prepare for the New Orleans Saints to come to town Sunday and they know that the top defensive priority will be trying to contain the league’s most productive receiver, Michael Thomas.
Thomas is currently leading every important reception and yardage category and is even on pace to break a couple of NFL records. And with Drew Brees back from his thumb injury, Todd Bowles’ Tampa Bay defense had better be up to the challenge.
Thomas currently sits atop NFL receivers in receptions (86), yards with 1,027 and yards-per-game 114.1. He also leads with 52 receptions for first downs and has been targeted 10 or more times in seven of New Orleans’ nine games. That also leads the league.
Needless to say, the Saints will try to establish him at Raymond James Stadium early and Brees will look to go to him ,especially on third down and in the Red Zone, often.
As for the Buccaneers secondary, they’ve already had a shake up earlier this week by releasing former #1 pick Vernon Hargreaves. It should be pointed out that Hargreaves was the guy that was primarily trying to cover Thomas, unsuccessfully, in the first matchup in New Orleans last month.
Thomas had 11 catches (photo above) for a season-high 182 yards and season-high 16.5 average per catch with two scores all mostly against Hargreaves in New Orleans 31 – 24 victory. Plus, it should be pointed out that those throws were also from backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who finished with four touchdowns on the day in the divisional win.
Now, because of Hargreaves’ release, it looks as though the Buccaneers may be putting one of their two rookie defensive backs, Jamel Dean or Sean Murphy-Bunting on Thomas for at least some of this game.
Dean was exposed in the lost to Seattle, where Russell Wilson and the Seahawks pass attack picked on him for big play after big play in Seattle’s 40 – 34 overtime win. However, the rookie out of Auburn redeemed himself last week with a couple of pass breakups and a crucial fourth-quarter interception of Kyler Murray in the Bucs 30 – 27 come-from-behind win over the Cardinals.
Back to the Saints. They are smarting off of a 26 – 9 loss to Atlanta, where they were kept out of the end zone by the Falcons defensive scheme. Part of their success was with six sacks of Drew Brees and mixing up their coverage of Thomas and the rest of the receivers. Now, Thomas still got 13 catches for 152 yards, but New Orleans could not figure out Atlanta, especially after getting into plus territory.
You would have to think that Sean Payton and Drew Brees have studied what the Falcons did and are ready for whatever the Bucs may be trying to throw at the Saints.
Critically, the pass rush and harassing of Brees is something to Tampa Bay will look to utilize with the likes of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul getting after him. Pierre-Paul did not play in the first matchup, while still recovering from a fractured neck. But, he has already been a force in his first three games back this season.
Barrett leads the NFL currently with the 11.5 sacks through 9 games.
Back to the Pro Bowler Thomas. The Buccaneers may choose to try to double-team him with some safety help to neutralize his downfield effectiveness.
Still, it may be the best strategy to let Thomas get an occasional catch or two, but try to contain the other receivers and harass Breezy enough, just like the Falcons did last Sunday in the Superdome, to get yourself a victory.
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