NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Four is a crowd in Bucs' backfield

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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TAMPA, Fla. -- For the first time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have a full stable of healthy running backs when they play the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Doug Martin, who has missed the past three games with an ankle injury, appears to be on schedule to make his return.

"Doug is back this week and that’s a good thing," coach Lovie Smith said Friday. “He looked pretty good in practice."

Martin
But Martin’s return means the Bucs face a tough decision on which running backs to activate Sunday.

"Four guys available," Smith said. "It’s pretty hard to dress four running backs. But we like having those decisions. It’s tough in a way, but in a way it’s really not. That’s why practice is so important, and we knew that we should have everybody back this week, so we’ve been paying close attention. We have a plan we feel comfortable with."

In addition to Martin, the Bucs have Bobby Rainey, Mike James and Charles Sims. Rainey has been starting in Martin’s place and he’s a regular on special teams, so he seems likely to be active. Sims has led the team in carries in each of the past two games, and James has carved out a niche as the short-yardage rusher.

Martin also missed two games earlier in the season. With Martin in and out of the lineup and Sims missing the first eight games with an ankle injury, nobody has stepped up and given the Bucs anything close to a feature back. But Smith said that situation will sort itself out.

"To me right now, if you continue to play guys, they’ll tell you all that," Smith said. "Bobby has had his moment. Mike James has kind of moved into his role. Yeah, we would like to see one of our running backs rush for about 200 yards and become the bell cow."

In injury news, linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring) missed his second straight day of practice. Smith said David’s status for Sunday will be a game-time decision.
TAMPA, Fla. – On a conference call with the Tampa Bay media, Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs paid Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith one of the highest compliments you’ll hear in football.

“[Smith is] going to tell you from Day 1, he’s going to treat everybody like a man," Briggs said. “That’s the honest to God truth. When coaches do stuff like that and stay consistent to exactly what they say, you get a lot out of your men. He was a man that you would run through a brick wall for."

Smith
“Of course, I’d do the same thing for Lance Briggs and any of my guys that I had there. I cherish the relationships I’ve been able to develop everywhere I’ve been. In Chicago, there were quite a few of those."

That’s to be expected because Smith spent nine seasons as the head coach of the Bears and took the team to a Super Bowl. He was fired after a 10-6 season in 2012. But as questions flowed about his Chicago days Wednesday, Smith said he carries no bitterness.

With the Bucs scheduled to play the Bears on Sunday, Smith was hit with plenty of Chicago talk. Reporters from two Chicago newspapers were present and Smith, at first, tried to down downplay the significance of the matchup.

“We’re trying to get a win against an opponent on the other side," Smith said.

But the questions didn’t stop and Smith eventually opened up about his Chicago experience.

“My memories of my time in Chicago are all great memories," Smith said. “I have lifetime friends from Chicago that will always be a part of our family. You talk about the opportunity I was given by the McCaskey family. Those are all good memories. I don’t have many bad memories on any place I’ve ever been. We spent a lot of time there. We still have homes there. My time there, my wife is from Chicago. There’s nothing but fond memories of that time there. But it’s a part of my past, but a part of my past that I will always cherish."

Smith, whose wife is from Chicago, said he still owns a house in Illinois.

“I have a lot of fond memories," Smith said. “We won a lot of games. That’s what I remember. And the fans there were awesome when we were winning all of those games. That’s my recollection."
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's more than a little ironic that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown is finally feeling like he did last year.

That's because he's about to visit Chicago to face the team he played for last season. McCown played the best football of his career for the Bears: Filling in for an injured Jay Cutler, he threw for 13 touchdowns with just one interception. That performance was enough to get McCown a two-year, $10 million contract and a starting job in Tampa Bay.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJosh McCown parlayed a strong 2013 in Chicago into a two-year, $10 million deal with the Bucs.
McCown said his momentum from last year went away at the beginning of this season. He has said he was pressing too hard in the first three weeks, throwing two touchdown passes and four interceptions before suffering a thumb injury that kept him on the sideline for five games. But since returning to the lineup two games ago, McCown said he feels like he did during his run as Chicago's starter.

That was especially evident on Sunday in Washington. McCown completed 15 of 23 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns as the Bucs (2-8) snapped a five-game skid.

"I don't know that I felt that way the first few games," McCown said. "That's how I envisioned it. That's how I felt when I was playing last year. I felt more calm, and [quarterbacks coach] Marcus [Arroyo] and I are on the same page with the plan and just where he's at as a playcaller. That brought me a lot of peace. That's more what everybody envisioned."

Sunday's performance was exactly what the Bucs envisioned when they signed McCown.

"If you look at what he did last year and his body of work when he was given a chance, he was very impressive," Arroyo said. "I think he's capable of doing that game, and that was a great game last weekend. We've got to try to find a way to do it again and again."

McCown said the arrival of coach Marc Trestman in Chicago last year helped elevate his game.

"Just from the standpoint of having someone on the offensive side of the ball bring his kind of expertise," McCown said. "You get different things from different people in your career, and I've had tons of coordinators, some really good ones. But every now and then, you click with somebody that sees it the way you see it. As a player, the way they call a game or the way they see the game, it kind of hits your brain the same way. For me, I think that's what allowed me to play at the level I played at for Marc."

Bonding with a coach wasn't the only positive McCown took from his three seasons in Chicago, which included two years playing for current Bucs coach Lovie Smith.

"Especially when I first got there in 2011, I liked how that locker room was," McCown said. [Linebacker Brian] Urlacher was still there. You could just feel the closeness of that group of guys. It's very rare that you get to be in those kind of locker rooms when you have groups that have been together like they have. I mean, you're talking about Lance Briggs and Peanut Tillman have been teammates for 10 years plus. That's unheard of. It just doesn't happen very much in this league.

"When you get in a locker room like that where you have guys that have been teammates that long and observe their relationships and how much they appreciate each other and their friendship and watch how it plays out on the field, I think that's what I look back on my time there the most -- how important those relationships are in that locker room."
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy and safety John Lynch have made the list of 26 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.

Dungy and Lynch were among the 15 finalists this past year but didn’t make the final cut. They’ll face a strong challenge again next year.

The list of first-year semifinalists includes Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Edgerrin James, Orlando Pace and Junior Seau. Lynch also could face a tough time getting in due to his position. It’s tough for safeties to get into the Hall of Fame, and safeties Steve Atwater and Darren Woodson also made the list of semifinalists.
TAMPA, Fla. – In a development that should come as absolutely no surprise, Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Evans had a huge game in Sunday’s 27-17 victory over Washington. He had seven catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns as he continued his hot streak. Evans became the first rookie receiver since Randy Moss in 1998 to have three straight games with at least 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown.

Evans is the first Tampa Bay player to earn player-of-the-week honors this season.
Jacquies SmithMike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJacquies Smith, who has three sacks this month, has earned recognition for his play.
TAMPA, Fla. -- His road to an NFL roster spot was long and strange. But Jacquies Smith is making the most of it.

He has gone from an undrafted free agent, to a stint in Canada, to some practice-squad time. But he's now turning it all into a key role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The defensive end earned a spot in the rotation and has responded with three sacks, including two in Sunday's victory against Washington. More playing time is on the horizon, now that Smith has shown he can handle it.

Smith
"We tell the players always, 'If you get in a few plays and you're productive with those, you'll get more,'" Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said. "Kind of simple as that. He has continued to get more plays based on his play. He's come a long ways from being cut by the Bills and coming down here and now really being a factor."

Smith was cut by the Buffalo Bills after the first game of the season and picked up by the Buccaneers. It wasn't the first time Smith was cut. Coming out of Missouri as a free agent in 2012, he was cut by the Miami Dolphins in training camp. He then wound up with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. But that didn't last.

"I got out of the Canada thing talking to the GM, just telling him I'm miserable and being up here and it just isn't for me," Smith said "They were like, 'We know we've got something here.' But it was like I was miserable and wanted to be happy and play football as well."

Smith got out of Canada and was signed to the practice squad of the New York Jets. He went to training camp with the Jets in 2013, but that didn't take. Smith spent almost the whole season out of football before being signed by Buffalo last Dec. 30. He went to camp with the Bills in 2014 and thought he had it made.

"I was in Buffalo and actually made the roster in Week 1 and then got released and came here," Smith said. "It was a process. I felt like this past preseason was the best preseason I had and really [was] able to showcase my ability."

The Bucs liked what they saw on the preseason tape, which is why they brought Smith in. At first, he was supposed to be a seldom-used backup. But he gradually has worked himself into a spot in the defensive line rotation, and his playing time has been increasing.

"I've always been self-motivated," Smith said. "I felt I really got an opportunity. Buffalo really allowed me to showcase my talent. I can't do nothing but thank those guys because they really let me do what I do during the preseason and training camp. Things just started to come to life for me."

The Film Don't Lie: Buccaneers

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
11:00
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A weekly look at what the Buccaneers need to fix:

The Bucs played -- by far -- their best game of the season in Sunday’s 27-7 victory against Washington. But they weren’t totally flawless.

As we pointed out last week, the team continues to fail to establish a consistent running game. That didn’t change against Washington, but we already know the problems are inconsistent blocking and the failure of running backs to hit holes.

But there was an even bigger problem Sunday. It was penalties. The Bucs were flagged 11 times for 101 yards.

Penalties have been a persistent problem all season. The Bucs aren’t far off the league leaders with 80 penalties for 620 yards. The penalties have come in virtually all areas.

That’s surprising from a team coached by Lovie Smith, who was known for having disciplined teams in Chicago. But the Bucs haven’t been very disciplined so far.

They got away with committing a bunch of penalties against Washington. But that’s not going to happen every week.

The way to fix this problem isn't all that difficult. It just involves some extra effort. The Bucs need to do a better job of paying attention to discipline and detail to cut down on the penalties.
TAMPA, Fla. -- In recent weeks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy have talked several times about how the team’s pass rush and coverage combos weren’t matching up.

McCoy
McCoy
On Monday, that changed. Smith talked about Tampa Bay’s defensive performance in a 27-7 victory against Washington on Sunday and said the rush and coverage were working perfectly together. Members of the front four were singing the praises of the secondary. And the defensive backs were glowing about the front four.

“I would hope a defensive lineman would talk about the coverage part," Smith said. “And I would hope if you talk to the guys on the back end they would talk about the pressure that the front gave. It has to go hand in hand. We did do a pretty good job on the back end, covering them. I think the defensive staff did a good job of mixing things in, bluffing, showing, playing man and playing zone. For the most part, just playing our defense."

That defense produced six sacks and three takeaways. That’s the kind of defense Smith has been preaching about but not getting in the first nine games. But everything came together against Washington.

“Defensively, we set the tone with that first interception, but it was more than that," Smith said. “Gerald McCoy talked about setting the pace and what the defense needed to do, improvements that needed to be made. I thought for the most part we did that. The front four got pressure."

All six sacks came from the front four. Smith isn’t big on blitzing and believes almost all of the team's pressure should come from the front four.

“It’s critical," Smith said. “It’s a must. To a man, they would all say that. Of course, the defensive line better say that. Everything starts up front. They had a couple of injuries on their offensive line. There was a lot more than six sacks. There was constant pressure throughout. It’s hard for a quarterback to complete throws when you have that type of pressure."
Welcome to the NFC South, the only place where you can be a contender for the No. 1 overall draft pick one day and a contender for the division title (and the playoffs) the next.

It’s crazy, but it’s true. Let’s keep things in perspective and point out that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-7 victory against Washington on Sunday was only the second win of the year for the Buccaneers.

But two wins in the NFC South translates at least into the possibility of an NFC South championship banner being added to Raymond James Stadium. Seriously.

Just check out the NFC South standings. At 2-8, the Bucs aren’t out of the race. Atlanta and New Orleans are both 4-6 and Carolina is 3-7-1. The postseason is a possibility for the Bucs.

"Does anybody in the NFC South deserve to be in it?" Carolina cornerback Josh Norman said after the Panthers lost to the Falcons on Sunday.

Norman’s point is well taken, but the fact is someone from this division has to win it. Why not the Bucs?

Hey, they’re two games back in the win column and they still have games left with New Orleans and Carolina. If the Bucs play anything like they did Sunday, they’ve got a shot at winning some more games down the stretch. That could be enough to let them climb in the standings, given the way the rest of the division is playing.

The best the Bucs could finish is 8-8. I’m thinking even 7-9 could be good enough to win the division. Heck, maybe even 6-10 might do the trick.

For the moment, you can forget the debate if the Bucs should take a quarterback, defensive end or a left tackle with the No. 1 overall pick. There’s no question the Bucs need help in the future.

But, mostly because of what the rest of the NFC South is doing, the future is a long way off. The Bucs still are in this race.
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LANDOVER, Md. – By now, you've probably realized that Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie wide receiver Mike Evans is a pretty talented guy.

But Evans brings more skills than you realize. As it turns out, Evans can call plays. That's what he did on the first of his two touchdown catches in Sunday's 27-7 victory over Washington.

Technically, the play was called by quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo. But Evans put a new wrinkle on it as he went in motion and shouted to quarterback Josh McCown.

"We had a route called and it was something he was going to add on to it," McCown said. "We had talked about it, possibly, on the sideline. It was truly a last-second adjustment there and he made a great play."

Evans did pretty much whatever he wanted all day. He finished with seven catches for 209 yards, just nine yards short of the franchise record for receiving yards in a game. Evans' performance was historically good. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he became the first rookie receiver to record three straight 100-yard games with at least one touchdown since Randy Moss in 1998.

"Randy Moss was my favorite receiver," Evans said. "I just watched his '30 for 30' last night. It's great to be mentioned in the same caliber as him, but the win is more important than anything."

The win might not have come without Evans' big day. Tampa Bay (2-8) had blown five fourth-quarter leads this season. But Evans almost singlehandedly made sure it didn't happen again by putting the game too far out of reach.

Evans' first touchdown came with 4 minutes, 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter and it gave the Bucs a 20-7 lead. He followed that up with a 56-yard touchdown catch with 14:07 left in the fourth quarter. Coach Lovie Smith said he has never seen a rookie dominate the way Evans did.

"I have been in the league for a while and I just know that I haven't been with one that has been able to do some of the things he's done," Smith said. "He's still young. I've seen him grow so much. Lot of potential and really just competing hard. It will be a lot of fun to see his development."

McCown, a 13-year veteran, said Evans already is a special player.

"Obviously, Mike being the seventh pick [overall], you expect it more," McCown said. "But certainly to take over and do the things he did today is special. It's going to help our football team win games."

No tears from Bucs QB Josh McCown

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
5:21
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LANDOVER, Md. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-7 victory against Washington at FedEx Field:
    McCown
  • Although it seemed impossible after what happened last Sunday, quarterback Josh McCown opened his session with the media with a joke: "Last week, [did] y'all get wet?" That's what a victory can do for your mood. Last week, McCown was crying in the locker room after a loss to Atlanta. On Sunday, he was smiling.
  • Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans, who had seven catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns, might be becoming a household name in some sectors. But there was a funny moment in the hallway of the locker room. Evans was brought out to do a radio interview, and the producer shouted into his cellphone back to headquarters, "I've got Mike Smith ready to go."
  • Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said he gave a speech to the entire defense. The theme of it, he said, was "refuse to lose." He might want to try that one again next week.

LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-7 victory against the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field.

What it means: For the first time since September, the Bucs won a game. More importantly, they won in impressive fashion, turning in their best overall performance. They finally played the way a team coached by Lovie Smith is supposed to play: They got pressure on Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, they forced turnovers and the offense, which was prolific in the passing game, protected a lead. One impressive victory doesn't erase all the hard times the Bucs have gone through this season, but it may show some light at the end of the tunnel. And believe it or not, the 2-8 Bucs are still in contention in the NFC South.

Stock watch: Although Bobby Rainey got the start at running back, rookie Charles Sims got the bulk of the playing time. Get used to seeing that even when the injured Doug Martin returns to the lineup. The coaching staff and front office are very high on Sims, who missed the first half of the season with an ankle injury. Sims rushed for a team-high 36 yards, gaining just 2.8 yards per carry.

Game ball: For the third straight week, this honor goes to rookie wide receiver Mike Evans. He finished with seven catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Evans also claimed a spot in history, becoming the first rookie receiver since Randy Moss in 1998 to produce three straight 100-yard games with at least one touchdown.

What's next: The Bucs play at Chicago (4-6) next Sunday.

W2W4: Buccaneers at Redskins

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
12:00
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Five things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins:

Mike Evans: The rookie receiver has been the closest thing the Bucs have had to a bright spot, particularly in the last few weeks. Evans has had 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown in each of his last two games. If he can do it a third time, he’ll become the first rookie receiver since Randy Moss in 1998 to have three straight games with 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown.

Charles Sims: Look for more action for the rookie running back, who made his debut last week. He’s not going to get 25 carries, but he will get a fair share. In last week’s loss to Atlanta, the Bucs ran the ball on 38 percent of the snaps Sims was in the game. They only ran 14 percent of the time when Bobby Rainey was in the game. You can look for a similar ratio Sunday.

DeSean Jackson vs. Tampa Bay’s secondary: This matchup doesn’t look favorable for the Bucs, who have had some problems in the secondary. Jackson could cause nightmares. He has nine catches of 40 yards or more this season. No one else in the NFL has more than five.

Robert Griffin III: After a stellar rookie season, the Washington quarterback has struggled. His record as a starting quarterback since his rookie year is 4-12. But Griffin is still dangerous as a runner and a passer and Tampa Bay’s struggling defense can’t afford to take him lightly.

Josh McCown: The Tampa Bay quarterback returned last week after missing five games with a thumb injury. McCown looked sharper than he did in the first three weeks of the season. The passing game got into a rhythm for one of the few times this season. But McCown faces a big challenge against a Washington defense that’s ranked No. 10 in the league.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers running back Doug Martin will miss his third straight game due to an ankle injury, coach Lovie Smith said Friday.

 Martin practiced on a limited basis the past two days, but Smith said he was not medically cleared to play in Sunday’s game at Washington.

Once upon a time, going without Martin would have been a big deal for the Bucs. But Martin’s star has faded this season. Even when healthy, he’s averaged just 2.9 yards per carry.

Bobby Rainey has been starting in Martin’s place, but the Bucs have plenty of other depth at running back and are likely to use three of them.

Rookie Charles Sims made his debut last week after missing the first half of the season with an ankle injury. The coaching staff is particularly high on Sims, who was drafted in the third round. The team also has Mike James as a short-yardage back and special-teams player.
TAMPA, Fla. – Back in the offseason, especially after they drafted Charles Sims, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers repeatedly said Doug Martin still was their “bell-cow’’ running back.

It has become apparent throughout the season that’s no longer the case. But, on Wednesday, quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo actually came out and said the Bucs don’t have a bell-cow runner, mostly because they don’t need one.

Sims
“I don’t think we need to say that,’’ Arroyo said. “There’s no need for that. You’ve got three good ones and you’ve got guys in the third-and-one situation that can carry the flag and you’ve got guys that can carry it in certain situations. That’s a great thing to have. I think a lot of teams wish they had that kind of flexibility. We have some options and they’re all guys we’re really excited about.’’

Martin’s season has been star-crossed. He has been injured and has missed four games, including the last two. Even when healthy, Martin hasn’t been very productive. He has 58 carries for 166 yards for a 2.9 average.

Backup Bobby Rainey has been more productive with 87 carries for 388 yards. Mike James has established himself as the short-yardage back.

Then, there’s Sims, on whom the Bucs used a third-round draft pick. The team has described Sims as an all-purpose running back and it’s obvious they have big plans for him. But Sims missed the first eight games with an ankle injury. He made his debut and had 23 yards on eight carries.

What Arroyo was saying was that the Bucs are going to use a committee approach going forward. That might not be good news for fantasy owners of Tampa Bay’s running backs. But it should be good news for the Bucs.

They have four talented running backs, with four different skill sets, so they might as well use them all.

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