What: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) vs. Carolina Panthers (10-4)
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
When: 1 p.m.
Latest line/Over-under: Buccaneers +10.5/46.5
Why you should watch
The Buccaneers may be out of the playoff race but the Panthers certainly aren’t. The Panthers are locked in a virtual tie for the NFC South lead with the Saints and can clinch a playoff berth with a win or tie today. This then is another chance for the Buccaneers, their fourth in as many weeks, to put a dent in a team’s playoff hopes. They’ve yet to do that, of course, but they did manage to give the Packers, Lions and Falcons each a good competitive game despite suffering from an incredible run of injuries. Those injuries will make competing against the Panthers a challenge as well but if the Bucs can get another good game out of quarterback Jameis Winston and some of their more promising reserves such as running back Peyton Barber, wide receiver Chris Godwin and tight end Antony Auclair they could pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season.
Key on: Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander
Winston isn’t the only Buccaneers quarterback who hasn’t had the breakout third season everyone hoped he’d have. Alexander, the quarterback of the Bucs defense, hasn’t played up to expectations this year either. Much like Winston, injuries have played a part in Alexander’s struggles. Alexander missed four of the first five games of the year with a hamstring strain and has played sporadically ever since he made his return in Week 7. In the past two weeks, however, the Bucs have seen more of the Alexander they became accustomed to over the course of his first two NFL seasons. Playing as if he has his legs back under him, Alexander has racked up 25 tackles, including two for a loss, the past two games and the Bucs defense has looked a lot more representable as a result. Alexander is one of the keys to the Bucs future, and if he’s on his game again today he could make life difficult for the likes of Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen.
In the midst of one of the worst seasons ever for the Buccaneers defense as a whole, safety Chris Conte is having what may be his best individual season ever. A starter in 12 of the Bucs 14 games so far, Conte has yet to allow a touchdown in 364 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s coming off a game in which he didn’t allow a reception on any of the three passes that were thrown his way against the Falcons last week. Good thing, too, because Conte figures to get tested a lot today. With fellow safety Justin Evans out it will likely fall to Conte to slow Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who is quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target. Conte had a good game the first time out against the Panthers this year, allowing Olsen’s fill-in, Ed Dickson, to catch just two passes for 6 yards. Olsen will give Conte a far greater challenge than Dickson did, but given the way Conte has played this year, he may not have a whole lot more success.
Embarrassing Monday night for NFL with roughing passer calls
As the old cliche’ goes, “too much of a good thing can be bad.” And unfortunately, with the NFL having safety in mind first in trying to protect quarterbacks, the emphasis and enforcement of “roughing-the-passer” has gone overboard.
And we mean overboard.
Like horiffic look on Monday Night Football between the Buccaneers and Steelers, overboard.
The Steelers won an important game for both teams 30-27, but there’s way too much conversation about the QB hits coming out of this game.
There were five personal foul calls by referee Pete Morelli and his crew against pass-rushers on a quarterback last night. In fairness, on the occasion that Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was scrambling in the first quarter and Steelers linebacker James Bostic clearly left his feet and hit him in the head (above), as he was attempting to slide down, it was correct.
That was a legitimate call that the NFL is emphasizing and trying to erase.
However, the argument can be made that on three of the other four calls of roughing either Fitzpatrick or Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the officials, and Morelli specifically, overreacted and made a call that should have been let go.
We at F.F.I. understand the point of emphasis that referees are being instructed to stop defenders from wrapping up a quarterback and driving him into the ground. More on a specific call about that in a second.
First, at the beginning of the second quarter and with the Steelers backed up near their own end zone, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy did exactly what players are being instructed to do. He let up and did not tackle Roethlisberger to the ground, avoiding landing on him after he threw the football.
And yet, Morelli threw his flag anyway.
On the play the Steelers had completed the pass to Juju Smith- Schuster for 43 yards, but still, it was an example of a call that did not meet the criteria and emphasis and should not have been made.
Later in the second quarter, Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was flagged for a hitting Big Ben in the head while Roethlisberger was in the pocket. However, it was clear both live and on the replay that Pierre-Paul made very little contact with his arm and Roethlisberger flopped to the ground.
Again, it should have been let go.
Now, with six minutes remaining in the first half, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an incomplete pass and Steelers defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt textbook grabbed him around the waist and drove him into the ground landing on him. This is the example that is exactly what the NFL wants called and Morelli got that one right.
However, by and large the calls were bad on this specific point of emphasis.
It’s obvious after the controversy involving the Packers Clay Matthews hit on the Redskins quarterback Alex Smith Sunday, where he drove him to the ground in the pocket on a sack, that the NFL is in “full spin mode” on making that call and doing it consistently.
Further, players are trying to adjust, not just McCoy last night, but also Dolphins defensive end William Hayes who was trying to keep from wrapping up Derek Carr Sunday and ended up tearing his ACL because of it.
The bottom line is in a stand-alone Monday Night Football national television game, it was not a good look for the NFL to repeatedly see flags on the field for roughing the quarterback that weren’t really roughing.
Take for example, this tweet on Tuesday morning from ESPN’s Booger McFarland who called the game from field level Monday night:
Dear NFL. When the people you made the rule to protect start saying the rule is a joke it may be time to change the rule for roughing the passer. Rodgers and Big Ben both said they don’t like the rule.
— Booger (@ESPNBooger) September 25, 2018
He’s right. The NFL and its ongoing evaluation has to reign in how and when roughing-the-passer is going to be called.
Otherwise, the officiating continues to be one of the main story lines, and no one pays to see the officials.
Steelers hung on as Fitzpatrick rally came up short
That old “FitzMagic” still has the NFL in it spell.
That old FitzMagic that Ryan Fitzpatrick weaves so well.
He was at it again on Monday. Just when it seemed as if that old FitzMagic had run its course, Fitzpatrick nearly pulled a victory out of the jaws of defeat, rallying the Bucs to within a field goal of their third triumph in as many weeks.
It didn’t happen. The Bucs wound up losing Monday, 30-27, in part because Fitzpatrick struggled through most of the first half, throwing three picks during that span, including one that was returned for a touchdown. But, look at the overall body of work.
For the third time in as many weeks, Fitzpatrick threw for more than 400 yards (411 to be exact). And that’s an all time NFL record for three consecutive games.
He fell just short of throwing four touchdown passes for a third straight week, but the three he did throw for were one of the big reasons the Bucs remained alive on this game until the very end.
Once again, and even on a night when he wasn’t at his best, Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Bucs best player. And therein lies the problem with the Bucs. Right now, Tampa Bay is a one-dimensional football team and that dimension is Fitzpatrick.
Sure, he’s getting plenty of help from his receiving corps, which is easily the best in the league. But he’s getting little or no help from anyone else on this team.
The Bucs ran for 63 yards on Monday. Their defense took the ball away just once. While surrendering 416 total yards. Their kicker didn’t miss a field goal or a PAT but that was a first for this year.
That the Bucs will go into Chicago next week tied with two other teams for first place in the NFC South thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick. If they hope to stay there, they’re going to need contributions from other sources. And fast.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has carried this team this far. There’s nothing to suggest he can’t carry them a but farther. But for the Bucs to go as far as they believe they’re capable of, they’re going to need someone or something else to shoulder some of the load.
Gamenight- Bucs look to continue rolling in battle with Steelers
Who: Buccaneers (2-0) vs. Steelers (0-1-1)
When: Monday Night 8:15 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Spread: Steelers by 1 (Courtesy VegasInsider.com)
It’s a massive early season game for both the Bucs and the Steelers for different reasons. Tampa Bay is trying to be 3-0 for the first time since 2005, while Pittsburgh doesn’t want to drop to 0-2-1 already on the young season.
Here’s what to watch:
Will “Fitzmagic” continue?
Through two weeks, there’s no better story involving a journeyman player than the Buccaneers QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in back to back weeks, which is the first time in Tampa Bay franchise history that anyone has done that. Fitzpatrick has also become the first QB in league history to have 400 or more passing yards and four or more passing TDs in the first two games of the season.
Will it continue tonight against a Steelers defense that was butchered at home a week ago by the Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes? Mahomes threw six touchdown passes in a K.C. rout in the Steel City.
Clearly, the Bucs weapons, WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson plus tight end O.J. Howard are on fire, too. So, the stage is set for the 14 year vet to play another good, if not great game, now will he?
Steelers in disarray
There is no doubt that Pittsburgh has talent, but they currently are a mess. As we documented already, All Pro RB Le’Veon Bell is a holdout, refusing to sign his “Franchise Player” tender offer for the second straight year. You couple that with back to back poor performances on the field in a tie at Cleveland and then, the bad loss last week, and the Steelers are reeling.
And it didn’t help to see coach Mike Tomlin call the entire defense around him on the sideline in the first half last week to scream at them about they way they were playing. Then, you had star WR Antonio Brown visibly upset during discussions on the sideline with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner last Sunday, too.
Can the Steelers rally around Roethlisberger? Or will they continue to flounder?
Finally, will Bucs defense rise in Monday Night Spotlight
So much has been made of Fitzpatrick’s success, but the Buccaneers defense also has come up large, when needed. This would include last week in the home opening win over the Eagles. LB Kwon Alexander had a sack fumble, and the Buccaneers defensive line not only stuffed the run but pressured, harassed and knocked down/sacked Nick Foles repeatedly.
Players like Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy (above), Jason Pierre-Paul, LaVonte David, and Brent Grimes (who’s expected to play despite groin injury) are chomping at the bit to win a game like this with the country watching.
The Bucs haven’t been dominant, but rather opportunistic with stops and turnovers (three so far in two games), and that must continue tonight, if Tampa Bay wants to remain unbeaten.
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