What: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) vs. Atlanta Falcons (9-5)
Where: Raymond James Stadium
When: 8:30 p.m.
Latest line/Over-under: Buccaneers +6.5/49
Why you should watch
Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter walked off the Raymond James Stadium field at the end of his team’s loss to the Lions last week to a chorus of boos and “We want Jon Gruden’’ chants. Well, those fans that want Gruden so badly are going to get their wish. And what an awkward moment that figures to be. As the Bucs begin to wrap up their seventh losing season since Gruden was fired nine years ago, Gruden will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime of this game. That should make for interesting theater. Unfortunately, the theater will probably be more interesting than the game. This is one that might better watched on TV just to see how Gruden responds to talk about all the rumors that have him replacing Koetter as the Bucs next coach.
Key on: The Buccaneers secondary
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (above) had one of the best games of his career against this group the last time they met. The Bucs tried virtually every coverage in their playbook – 14 in all, according to Koetter – but had no answer for Jones, as he caught 12 of the 15 passes that were thrown his way for 253 yards and two touchdowns. That’s an unconscionable number, especially you consider that if there’s anyone who should know how to stop Jones it’s Koetter and Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith. After all, they used to coach him. How the Bucs respond to what has become one of the seminal moments of the season could be critical to Smith’s future. If the Bucs can’t figure out a way to contain Jones yet again, it may be an indication the game has passed Smith by.
Buccaneers running back Doug Martin is having another “off’’ season, the fourth of his six-year career. Poor blocking up front has been a big part of the problem, but Martin hasn’t run the way he’s capable of either. When he’s at his best Martin gains a lot of extra yards after contact, but he’ll go into this game ranked 43rd out of 51 running backs in average yards gained after contact per attempt (2.26), according to Pro Football Focus. Peyton Barber has been the Bucs most productive back the past two games, gaining 165 yards on 35 carries (4.7) and he’s gained a lot of those yards (116) after contact. With the Bucs O-line struggling to open holes the Bucs need a back who can make yards on his own, and right now that back is Barber.
Former Bucs coach Dungy- “You can’t make that move”
It remains a huge topic for now in Tampa Bay, what happens when former number 1 pick and franchise quarterback Jameis Winston comes off of suspension after Monday night’s game with the Steelers?
For now, the answer appears to be simple, Ryan Fitzpatrick has played tremendous football for two weeks. This includes being named the NFC offensive player of the week for both weeks to start the season as the Bucs are 2 – 0.
Former Buccaneers coach and 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Tony Dungy weighed in on the Winston debate Friday morning on “ProFootballTalk Live” and NBC Sports Network:
“If Ryan plays like he played these last two games, if he does it again Monday night, how can you say ‘we have a better chance to win with a quarterback who hasn’t been in the building for three and half weeks….You can’t make that move.” Dungy continued, “Right now, you have to say ‘Ryan Fitzpatrick gives us the best chance to win.'”
Dungy, who’s the commentator now in the studio for NBC on Sunday nights, will actually be at the Monday night showdown between the Bucs and the Steelers. This is because he’s being placed in Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor, acknowledging Dungy having turned around the Buccaneer franchise in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Dungy went on to reference the example in the early 70s of the Dolphins and Don Shula facing this dilemma when Bob Griese had broken his ankle at the beginning of a season. And veteran journeyman backup Earl Morrall replaced him, and ended up being the MVP of the NFL regular season that year. Morrall played all the way until he was ineffective in the AFC Championship Game. Griese replaced him and the Fins won it all with a perfect season.
Dungy’s point was the Shula chose to “ride the hot hand,” even with a great player and established quarterback waiting in the wings, and Miami ended up making history.
Dungy, the former Super Bowl coach of Colts, then even told Florio how he would handle the situation in his locker room and with the media after Monday night, if Fitzpatrick leads the Bucs to a win:
“I don’t think you can say with Ryan, ‘you’re our guy no matter what.’ … You’ve gotta say, ‘I’ll make the decision, when I feel like Ryan doesn’t give us the best chance to win, we’ve got a great player (Winston) ready to play. But, for now? Don’t ask me any questions, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s playing. I’ll let you know when he’s not gonna play.'”
It’s obvious that if Fitzpatrick just plays decently and the Bucs win, he’s going to remain their quarterback. Also, if FitzPatrick plays well and the Bucs narrowly lose, he more than likely is going to remain the quarterback, for now.
However, few believe that this situation is going to remain the same throughout the 16-game schedule and more than likely, the Bucs will turn back to Winston at some point and maybe soon.
However, as Dungy put it out there Friday, that time just isn’t right now.
Bucs got good injury news Thursday starting with rookie DT Vea
Despite their 2 – 0 start, the Buccaneers have been battling early-season injuries, but they got good news on Thursday. In particular, mammoth rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea returned to the practice field for the first time, since injuring his calf in the first week of training camp in late July.
The former number 1 pick out of Washington was on the practice field with a helmet and shoulder pads during the time period that the media was allowed to view and film practice. There is eager anticipation on Vea being able to get in the lineup and be paired next to Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy on the Bucs defensive why.
Tampa Bay officially listed Vea as “limited” in Thursday’s workout, as they prepare for Monday night’s match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The good news on the defensive side of the ball, has lockdown defensive back Brent Grimes also returned to practice for the Bucs Thursday. Grimes has missed the last two weeks after injuring his groin just before the opening game at New Orleans. He was also officially listed as limited by the team on their injury report.
Grimes will be counted on even more heavily now that the Bucs have lost another starting Corner in Vernon Hargreaves, who’s out for the season with a shoulder injury. Last week, Tampa Bay played a mix of rookies and a veteran, whom they had just picked up during the week.
Second round picks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis played significantly in last Sunday’s 27 – 21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Tampa Bay was also forced to use veteran free agent Marcus Williams for a couple of series, who they had picked up off of waivers during the game onSunday. Third-year veteran Ryan Smith played significantly, as well in the game and will also be counted on moving forward.
The Bucs also listed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week back to back to start the season, is also on the injury report with a knee, but he was able to practice.
Also, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is battling a knee injury and was not able to work out on Thursday. Pierre-Paul hurt the knee in New Orleans, but played that entire game and all of the Philadelphia game.
It’s cool to be a Bucs fan, again
(Please welcome a new contributor to F.F.I. Jeff Pantridge is a long time resident of the Tampa Bay area who has formerly hosted on the Tampa Bay sports radio scene, and also most recently in Virginia Beach, VA. He will be giving us his unique humor and insight into everything involving Florida’s college and NFL teams. Welcome “Pants!”)
In a country that’s as divided as ever; we don’t have many things that we agree on in 2018. Despite all of our differences though, there is one thing that we share. We all want to be cool.
This is how life works. You’re born. You learn how to walk. You learn how to talk. You run around the playground for a few years and once you hit 8 years old or so; you figure things out. You want to be cool. You realize that the cute sweater with the sailboat on it that mom got you when you were 7 sucks and you want to start picking your own clothes. From that point on, pretty much until we die, while we may have a few more meaningful purposes; we’ll always on some level, just want to be cool.
I’ve been a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, since I was 7 years old. I started watching and listening to their games with my dad in 1984. I loved my Bucs and I would go to school every morning and let all of the other kids know it. They weren’t impressed. The Buccos finished 6-10 that year and 7 year old kids don’t like losers. Then 1985 hit. I ditched that stupid sweater and got me a brand new orange Tampa Bay Bucs shirt. I traded in my sailboat for a menacing pirate ship. I had to be cool at this point, right?
Nope. The Bucs went 2-14 that year. Unfortunately, 8-year old me had no idea that my football team hired a former used RV salesman (Leeman Bennett) to be their head coach. Meanwhile, the coolest team ever assembled shuffled their way to a Super Bowl by dismantling everyone in their path. They also danced, they rapped, they appeared on TV shows and redefined what cool was. Just about every 8-year old kid in my class and in every other class, was a Chicago Bears fan. After that 2-14 season, the Bucs had another 2-14 season. And then 10 more losing seasons after that. The Bears would go on to wear out their welcome at the cool kids table too.
The thing is; coolness is fleeting. Trends fade over time. For the rest of my youth, many teams sat at that cool kids table. The Giants were cool. Then the Redskins were cool. Then the 49ers were cool. Then the Cowboys were cool… It seemed like every team was getting to eat lunch at that table except my beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then it happened…
In 1997; everything changed. The Bucs had just hired a new Head Coach (Tony Dungy) in the previous year. (This guy didn’t sell RV’s.) They were led by Hardy Nickerson and 2 first round draft picks in their 3rd year who were destined to become first ballot Hall of Famers. They ditched those comically uncool creamsicle uniforms and they were off and running.
While most people will tell you that 2002 was their favorite Tampa Bay Buccaneers season for obvious reasons; I will always lean towards 1997, because that’s when my football team became cool. They started 5-0 that year, and to this day; I’ve never seen The Bay Area buzzing like that.
Not when the Lightning won The Cup. Not when The Rays got to the World Series. Not even when the Buccaneers themselves brought the Lomabardi trophy home 5 years later. EVERYBODY was talking about the Bucs!
21 years later; everybody is talking about these Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again. It might be a new cast of characters, but your Pewter Pirates are the coolest team in America, led by the coolest athlete in America; Ryan Fitzpatrick. Who would’ve thought that a guy like him would ever fit that title? He’s a 35-year old backup quarterback that went to Harvard. This is 2018 though. Nerds are cool now. Marc Zuckerberg (another Harvard nerd) is worth more than the entire NFL. LeBron James wears glasses, when he doesn’t need to wear glasses.
Heck, I just watched SportsCenter do 10 minutes on some dude that plays video games for a living. By the way, this nerd also hangs with Drake, Paul George and a bunch of other really cool people that don’t hang out with any of us.
Do we know how long this ride is going to last? No. Will it be a long ride? Probably not. Like I said… coolness is fleeting. I’m just happy to be sitting at that cool kids table once again.
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