The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will return to work following their bye week on Monday a step closer to the leader in the NFC South title race than they were when the week began.
The Bucs (2-3) went into the week in second place in the South, two games behind the Falcons, but Atlanta’s 26-24 loss at Seattle shaved a half a game off that lead.
The Bucs will also return to One Buc Place on Monday with a little more distance between themselves and the defending South champion Panthers, who fell to 1-5 on the year after losing a wild 41-38 game Sunday at New Orleans.
The Saints are now tied with Tampa Bay for second place in the division but the Bucs have a better division record (2-0) and a better conference record (2-2) than the Saints who are 1-1 and 1-2 respectively.
So, all in all, it was a pretty good bye week for the Bucs, who could be back near full strength for their game next Sunday against the 49ers in Santa Clara, California.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said last week that the team is hoping to have running back Doug Martin (hamstring) back for that game and there’s a chance their defensive line will be near full strength as well.
Tackles Clinton McDonald (hamstring) and Gerald McCoy (calf) and end Robert Ayers (ankle) were all listed as “doubtful’’ for the Bucs last game before the bye.
That’s an indication that a week of rest could put them all in a position to play in the first game back, which could prove to be one of the more pivotal games of the season.
Though a home game against Oakland follows, a win over the 49ers this weekend could put the Bucs in a position to play for the division lead when they host the Falcons on Thursday night, Nov. 3.
Given the Bucs 1-3 start, there aren’t many who would have guessed that a spot at the top of the division would be at stake in that game. After what happened this weekend, though, the Buccaneers are in much better shape already.