NFC South: Wembley Stadium

Wrap-up: Bears 24, Buccaneers 18

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
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Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 24-18 loss against the Chicago Bears at Wembley Stadium:

What it means: This game was typical of what we’ve seen from the young Buccaneers this season. One week after playing the best game since Raheem Morris has been the coach (a victory against the New Orleans Saints), the Bucs were flat against the Bears. The offense didn’t really show up until the fourth quarter and the run defense, which played so well against the Saints, was horrible. If the Bucs are going to challenge for the NFC South title, they have to start showing more consistency.

Time to worry? Just like the rest of the team, quarterback Josh Freeman has been up and down this season. He was down against the Bears, after playing his best game of the season against the Saints. Freeman was intercepted four times. That gives him 10 interceptions for the season. Freeman threw just six interceptions in the entire 2010 season.

On the positive side: There’s not much to work with here, but cornerback Ronde Barber recorded the first safety of his career when he tackle Chicago’s Matt Forte in the end zone. It was only the 10th safety in franchise history. Barber already had the NFL record for sacks by a cornerback. He extended it to 27.

Stat of the week: 0-2. That’s Tampa Bay’s record in regular-season home games in London. There have been indications the Bucs may want to volunteer a home game a season in the future to be played in London. Considering coaches, players and sometimes even owners are a superstitious lot, the Bucs might not want to be so eager to go back.

What’s next: The Buccaneers have a bye next week. They return to action Nov. 6 against the Saints in New Orleans.

Goodell: Bucs want global franchise

October, 22, 2011
10/22/11
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At a forum in London on Saturday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have expressed interest in playing an annual “home’’ game overseas.

The Bucs are scheduled to “host’’ the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Wembley Stadium. The team previously played in London in 2009. When announcing the passage of a resolution to continue games in London through 2016, league officials said teams will be allowed to volunteer for one game a year in London and also implied they’d like a team to make repeat visits to help create a fan base in the United Kingdom.

The Bucs will become the first team to play in London twice in the regular season with Sunday’s game and it sounds like there’s a good chance they’ll be back.

“I think they recognize that the growth of the league is important and they’ve been leaders in this area,’’ Goodell said. “I think they want to see the Bucs become a global franchise and I think that’s a great thing for Tampa and a great thing for the NFL.’’

The league has talked about eventually basing a team in London on a permanent basis. Tampa Bay’s willingness to play in London and the fact the team’s owners (the Glazer family) also own the Manchester United soccer team have led to speculation that the Bucs could be a candidate for relocation.

But general manager Mark Dominik said earlier this week the Bucs aren’t looking to leave Tampa Bay. I know there are conspiracy theories out there and many point to the team’s struggles to sell out games in Tampa.

But I don’t think Dominik was throwing out a smoke screen. Raymond James Stadium is one of the best facilities in the league and the NFL likes having Tampa Bay as a Super Bowl venue. When there was talk of the Bucs leaving in the mid-1990s, the league did its best to make sure that didn’t happen. The Glazers have a lot invested in Tampa Bay. They built One Buccaneer Place with their own money.

Team officials have pointed to the economy for the attendance issues. They’ve also said that playing one game in London helps make season tickets more affordable in the short term. Team officials also have said they believe attendance will pick up if the economy improves.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport sometime this afternoon. The early arrival is a major change from when the Bucs played in London in 2009.

On that trip, the Bucs treated the game the same way they would treat a West Coast trip. They arrived Friday night and tried to stay on their regular schedule. They lost that game and that may be a big part of the reason why they’re going to spend the whole week in London getting ready for Sunday’s game with the Chicago Bears at Wembley Stadium.

The players will be off Tuesday, although they’ll be making some public appearances. They’ll start a practice schedule Wednesday that will be similar to what they usually do at home, but their body clocks will have had time to adjust.

The Bears aren’t arriving until Thursday and they had to play a Sunday night game against Minnesota. In recent years, different teams have taken different approaches on when to travel to London.

The approach the Bucs are taking this year is similar to what the New Orleans Saints did when they went to London and got a win against San Diego. The Saints played the previous Sunday in Charlotte and left directly from there for London. The Saints got acclimated and jumped into their regular practice schedule that Wednesday.

“Any time you’re traveling that far and there’s a big time change, there’s a big adjustment,’’ New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said in a conference call with the Tampa Bay media last week. “I think getting used to the time change and the atmosphere and elements and just having a chance to kind of hunker down for a week and really practice and focus on football. That way, you can get all the newness and the hype out of your system early in the week and then you can just start to focus on football.’’

The Saints stayed at a resort that had a soccer field turned into a practice field for most of the week. The Bucs are doing something similar.

“We had a great setup, where we got through that jet lag on Monday, Tuesday and sort of Wednesday,’’ New Orleans coach Sean Payton said in a conference call with the Tampa Bay media last week. “That’s your main practice day. But as the week progressed and we traveled into the city before the game, it helped get everyone on their clocks and comfortable with the routine. I only know the way we approached it. I would probably say we’d approach it the exact same way, having gone through it before.’’
TAMPA, Fla. -- Thoughts on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 26-20 victory against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The NFC South race is closer than anticipated. The Saints had a chance to run away with it if they could have collected a third straight road victory. They didn’t. Tampa Bay played its most complete game of the season and earned this one. The Bucs and Saints each are now 4-2, and the Falcons are only a game behind them in the win column.

Play of the day: Tampa Bay linebacker Quincy Black intercepted Drew Brees in the end zone with three minutes and 16 seconds left to seal the victory for Tampa Bay. It’s not often you see Brees not succeed when the game is on the line.

Bizarre scene of the day: With the exception of Joe Paterno, you don’t see many coaches getting hit on the sideline. But New Orleans’ Sean Payton took a big shot in the first quarter. After catching a pass, tight end Jimmy Graham was forced out of bounds and collided with Payton. The coach spent much of the rest of the first half sitting on a bench with his leg elevated. He appeared to still be calling plays. At halftime, the Saints announced that Payton had a torn MCL and a fractured tibia. The team also said Payton would coach the second half in an upstairs booth with some of his assistants.

Who needs practice? Not Tampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson. He was reinstated Tuesday after being suspended for 56 weeks for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday, went through Friday’s light walk-through and got the start Sunday. Jackson intercepted a tipped Brees pass in the second quarter to give Tampa Bay’s offense good field position. Three plays later, the Bucs scored a touchdown to take a 20-7 lead.

What’s next: The Bucs play a “home’’ game with the Chicago Bears next Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium. The Bucs will fly out Monday morning and spend the week practicing near London. The Saints host the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday night at the Superdome.

Could Bucs be a regular in London?

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
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There’s a very interesting quote in the NFL’s press release announcing that owners approved a resolution to continue playing regular-season games in the U.K. through 2016.

The resolution leaves it up to the league to decide if more than one regular-season game per year will be played in the U.K. The resolution also allows teams to “volunteer’’ for one home game a year in the U.K.

This year’s game will be played at Wembley Stadium. It’s a “home’’ game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Chicago Bears. The Bucs also played a home game there in 2009.

Keep all that in mind and now read the interesting quote.

“When the initial resolution was approved in 2006, the thinking at the time was that we would have two new teams every year,” said NFL International vice president Chris Parsons. “As the series evolved, we felt as though having a team return to the U.K. on a regular basis would certainly increase the fan base for that particular team, which in turn would drive fan growth for the entire league. We think there is a tremendous benefit for a team to return to the U.K. on an annual basis.”

Read that last part (“tremendous benefit for a team to return to the U.K. on an annual basis’’) again. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

The Buccaneers could be playing an annual “home’’ game in London? Well, it’s logical in a lot of ways. Look back at that “return’’ word again. The Bucs are about to become the only team to return to London since the NFL started playing regular-season games there.

The Bucs already have had a strong fan club in the U.K. for years. The owners of the Bucs (the Glazer family) also own the Manchester United soccer team.

There’s also the matter of attendance in Tampa Bay. Prior to last week’s sellout of a “Monday Night Football’’ game against Indianapolis, the Bucs had not sold out their previous 10 regular-season home games. When accepting the trip to London this year, the Bucs said part of their reasoning was done with the local economy in mind. Team officials said one less game at Raymond James Stadium would cut the cost of paying for season tickets.

Plus, a yearly game in London would guarantee the Bucs at least one “home’’ sellout a season.

The language in the resolution about teams “volunteering’’ to play in London is very interesting. I can’t see teams with huge fan bases like the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers ever volunteering to give up a sure sellout at home.

But it’s pretty easy to picture the Bucs and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who also have had attendance issues, throwing their hands up when the NFL asks for volunteers.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Our divisional bloggers discuss one thing they'd change as commissioner for a day:

All eight division bloggers get to play commissioner on Thursday.

We each get one wish, and since Roger Goodell has been more than a little busy with the labor situation, I’ll go ahead and jump forward on something he seems to have been dreaming about for quite some time. I’ll go ahead and put a team in London.

Yes, London. Not Los Angeles. The nation’s second-largest city last had the NFL in 1994. Through the years, there’s been steady talk of relocating a team to Los Angeles or putting an expansion team there. It hasn’t happened, and that’s not the NFL’s fault. It’s the fault of the local leaders. The league has made it clear that all Los Angeles (or one of its suburbs) needs is a modern stadium. Nobody’s been able to step up and make that happen. Forget Los Angeles. And while you’re at it, forget San Antonio and Toronto. San Antonio’s not all that big and Toronto already has a presence with the Buffalo Bills playing some home games in Canada, and their real home isn’t all that far away.

[+] EnlargeWembley Stadium
AP Photo/Dave ShoplandThe Broncos and 49ers played last season at Wembley Stadium.
Goodell’s hinted at European expansion since he became commissioner. There have been regular-season games played in London the past three years, and the response has been outstanding. London -- and all of Europe, really -- represents an untapped market far bigger than anything Los Angeles, San Antonio or Toronto can offer.

Should the league put an expansion team in London? Well, you’d probably have to add a second expansion team to balance things out, and that might be difficult. It could mean a second team in Europe or maybe even Japan, and that would only complicate the logistics. On the plus side, the league could increase its revenue stream nicely by dividing up two expansion fees.

The other option is to move an existing team to London, and that might be the more realistic alternative at the moment. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been struggling to sell tickets for years, and the Minnesota Vikings have stadium issues.

Either one could be a viable candidate, but it’s not as simple as just moving one of them to London. The NFL has to think through the process very thoroughly. Visiting teams would need bye weeks after (or maybe even before) a London trip. Divisions might have to be realigned, and some measures would have to be taken to make sure the London team stays competitive.

That could mean some extended road trips to the United States, and the London team might need a regular or borrowed practice facility on this side of the Atlantic. But, once Goodell puts the labor situation behind him, he can start working on logistics for a London team.

Spacious Wembley Stadium is waiting. I’m sure the rest of the logistics in London can be worked out a lot faster than they’ve been moved on in Los Angeles.

NFC South evening roundup

July, 19, 2011
7/19/11
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Time for an evening trip through the headlines around the NFC South.

Joseph Person reports that linebacker James Anderson, who can become an unrestricted free agent, said he wants to return to the Panthers. Anderson said he and his agent had some productive contract talks with the team before the lockout. Assuming the Panthers re-sign Anderson and Thomas Davis, they’ll be pretty well stocked at linebacker because Jon Beason and Dan Connor also are on the roster. The big question is whether the Panthers will move Beason back to middle linebacker. He switched to the outside when Davis was injured last year.

Stephen Holder brings up a good point that Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris’ plan to accelerate training camp could hit a bump if part of the new labor agreement limits teams to one practice a day. If that’s the case, everyone’s in the same boat, but I’m sure teams around the league will try to compensate by putting in more time in the meeting rooms.

The game between the Bucs and Bears is scheduled for October at London’s Wembley Stadium. It’s been said for months now the game will revert back to Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium if a new labor deal isn’t completed by Aug. 1. Well, it looks like there’s optimism that’s stretching overseas. The NFL is getting ready to start selling tickets for the London game.

We shared some of what Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White had to say to Colin Cowherd in this earlier post. In case you can’t get enough of White, here’s White on video. Watch the video all the way to the end. That’s where White, once again, says the Atlanta offense could be like what the Rams had when their offense was called “The Greatest Show on Turf."
We all know today is the day the NFL announces the 2011 regular-season schedule. We also already know the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will “host’’ the Chicago Bears in an Oct. 23 game at Wembley Stadium.

Well, that last part is going on the assumption that a new labor deal is in place by Aug. 1. If not, then that game will be moved to Raymond James Stadium.

Anyway, as we wait to see which NFC South teams get prime-time games and how many they get, there’s one other thing we can pretty safely assume. That’s a bye for the Buccaneers the weekend of Oct. 30.

That won’t be set in stone until the schedule officially is released. But recent history has shown the NFL generally rewards teams who play in the London game with a bye the following week and the Bucs got one after their trip overseas in 2009. They almost certainly can count on that again this year and a bye week in the middle of the season is generally considered the ideal time by most coaches and players.

It also will be interesting to see what the Bucs get the week before the London game. The league usually tries to be sensitive to teams before they have to make the long trip. That could mean a home game, and the flight from Tampa to London is basically a jaunt up the Atlantic seaboard with a big right turn somewhere around Boston. I’m looking at Tampa Bay’s road schedule and I think you can pretty much rule out a trip to San Francisco, Green Bay, Minnesota or New Orleans the week before London.

It remains to be seen if the Bucs will leave late in the week or if they’ll go early. When the Saints went to London in 2008, they played a game in Charlotte and left directly from there for London. So it’s possible the Bucs could be given a road game at Jacksonville, Atlanta, Tennessee or Carolina the week before London because they wouldn’t have to fly far out of their way to get to any of those venues.
Well, we knew this was coming for about a week, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just made the official announcement and gave us the official date of their “home’’ game in London against the Chicago Bears.

It’s Oct. 23 at Wembley Stadium. It’s a 1 p.m. ET game. For those thinking the game could get “flexed’’ to a later time slot if both teams are playing well, stop it. The local time for kickoff is 6 p.m. If they pushed this game back to a 4:15 p.m. ET start or a prime-time start, it wouldn’t work logistically in the host city.

The Bucs also played the New England Patriots in London in 2009, and the New Orleans Saints represented the NFC South in that game in 2008.

The Saints spent the entire week leading into their game overseas in England and they wound up winning against the Chargers. The Bucs lost their game to the Patriots and didn’t fly in to London until late in the week. NFL teams can be superstitious, so let’s see if the Bucs take the same approach again or follow the lead of the Saints.

The Bucs also said that any season-ticket account already paid in full for the upcoming season will be refunded the amount paid for the game against Chicago. Those who paid via cash or check will receive a refund check. Those who paid by credit card will receive a refund to their credit-card account. Those who have remaining payment plans will have their costs adjusted to nine games (seven regular season and two preseason).

The entire NFL regular-season schedule is expected to be announced Tuesday.
Before the conspiracy theories go too far on how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing in London means they’re moving there, stop.

The Bucs may be visiting London for the second time in two years when they play the Chicago Bears in Wembley Stadium this season. But the Bucs and the NFL aren’t looking for a permanent rearrangement.

Yes, Tampa Bay ownership had some say in getting this game. And, yes, that same ownership also owns the Manchester United soccer team. But this is about a lot of other things beyond relocating a team that plays in one of the league’s finest stadiums (Raymond James Stadium, which is being paid for by taxpayers) and one of the league’s finest practice facilities (One Buccaneer Place, which was paid for by ownership).

The Bucs aren’t looking to get out of Tampa Bay and the NFL probably wouldn’t let them. The league already threw its weight around to keep the Bucs in town in the 1990s. The league likes the market and likes having Tampa Bay as a Super Bowl venue (the area is probably the front-runner for the 2015 Super Bowl, which is expected to be announced in the fall). There are at least several markets the league would consider abandoning for London or Los Angeles before the Bucs would even get a shot to escape.

This is much more about marketing. This is a team that’s marketing itself hard and there have been and continue to be talks about appearing on HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ this summer. This is also a team that struggled to sell tickets last year, when all home games were blacked out on local television.

The Bucs have lowered season-ticket prices and sales have improved in a region where the economy still is struggling. But, at least at the moment, the Bucs are probably looking at some more blackouts next season. Imagine if Chicago came to Raymond James Stadium for this game? I’m not talking just the Bears. I’m talking about all the Tampa Bay transplants from Illinois and all those who would make the trip down for a weekend when it’s winter in Chicago and summer in Tampa Bay.

That’s how it used to be every year back before the Bucs became good and the new stadium was built. Back in the days when the Bucs played in the NFC Central, it was the norm for crowds to favor Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota. If you want more recent evidence, just look back to last season's home game with Pittsburgh.

By taking their act to London, the Bucs are saving themselves and their fans from the strong possibility of a hostile takeover by Chicago fans. They’re also marketing their team on an international stage, which might help solve the attendance problem for the long term.

Oh, and guess what else? The Bucs just lowered season-ticket prices again. Take the cost of the Chicago game off the cost of season tickets and you’ve got another discount. Oh, one other thing -- if you don't have season tickets and live in the Tampa Bay area, you'll be able to watch the game on television.
The Bucs will play in London for the second time in two years this season.

ESPN Chicago is reporting the Bucs and Bears will play in this year's international game. The NFL regular-season schedule hasn’t been released yet, but the report cited sources. The game generally is played at Wembley Stadium about midseason.

The Bucs played in the international game in 2009 and are scheduled to be the home team in this year’s matchup with Chicago. Tampa Bay’s attendance problems last season would make this an attractive game to put on the international stage because the Bears went to the NFC Championship Game last season, the Bucs are coming off a 10-6 season and regular-season games in London in recent years have drawn large crowds.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Time for another edition of the mailbag. In this one, we once again tackle the much-discussed potential trades for Julius Peppers, Jay Cutler and, in this case, Jake Delhomme. We also look at why the Bucs and Patriots in London might not be as much of a given for prime-time television as you might think.

Richard in Baton Rouge writes: The Bucs are playing the Patriots in London. Given how much the NFL loves broadcasting the Patriots at the moment, right up there with the Cowboys, that game screams Primetime.

Pat Yasinskas: A lot of readers seem to be thinking the Bucs and Patriots is an automatic for prime time. Makes total sense if the game were being played in the United States. But there's one big problem here. Say you wanted to start this game at 8 p.m. ET. That's a 1 a.m. start (on Monday) in London. As much as the NFL loves to gear things toward the television audience, this game is especially geared toward the European audience. This game is treated like the Super Bowl over in London with day-long parties and such. Getting 80,000 people into Wembley Stadium at 1 a.m. isn't practical and doesn't make a whole lot of sense for the NFL and the European audience.


Mark in Houston writes: Hey Pat, In your "On the Clock" series, you have the Falcons taking Michael Johnson in the 1st round if he's available. I don't know. Johnson has the potential to be something special, but all he's done thus far to warrant the pick is rush the QB. He hasn't had great success stopping the run; he tends to "disappear"; and there are questions about his commitment to football. He doesn't seem to be a "gym rat" and unless I've heard wrong, isn't fully committed to the game. Also, with his great frame for the position, he would able to bulk up quite a bit without losing speed. But would he do that? Seems to me like he's a high risk-high reward kind of player, and I'm just not sure if we should take him with our 1st round pick. What do you think? Should we take a chance on this guy or try to get a "safer" pick?

Pat Yasinskas: There are no guarantees with any player and there are some questions about Michael Johnson. But I think the Falcons will take a look at him. They need a pass rusher to complement John Abraham and Johnson certainly has raw potential. I'm not making any definitive predictions on who the Falcons will draft at this point. At No. 24, there are too many things that can happen ahead of them and we're a month away from the draft. But I think Johnson is at least a consideration. I also think there's a chance the Falcons would be open to trading down a few picks to add a pick or two.


Rick in tampa writes: Hello Pat: Am sure you have had this question come your way many times already,Do the bucs really have a shot at cutler? Lions, and Jets seem to be front runners in his services but I have to assume thats the case but men it would be nice to upgrade so whats your take and is it possible ?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, this question keeps coming. As I said last week, I think it's a long shot. I don't think the Bucs have enough ammunition to make a trade for Jay Cutler. Also, the Broncos are publicly doing their best to make it sound like they won't trade their quarterback.


Bluto in Blacksburg writes: Hey Pat. What are the chances of a Peppers for Cutler trade between Denver and Carolina? This would be similar to the Portis-Bailey trade a few years ago where both teams were unloading unhappy players. If Denver insists on getting a QB, how crazy is Peppers+Delhomme for Cutler and at least 1 good draft pick? I know Carolina loves Jake, but getting Cutler in is prime, w/o the necessary grooming of a rookie, would seem like a better option than Jake at this point in his career.

Pat Yasinskas: I'm also getting a lot of this one from readers. Sounds like a great potential trade for the Panthers. But try to look at it from Denver's point of view. How are you going to sell fans on an aging Jake Delhomme in place of Jay Cutler in his prime? And how are you going to afford to pay Julius Peppers? Again, the Broncos haven't even said Cutler's available for trade. If he is, I think the Broncos will be looking for draft picks, not established players. They've got a salary cap and a future of their franchise to worry about.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

In a very logical move, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the New England Patriots in next year's International Series game in London.

It's logical because the Patriots are as high-profile as it gets. It's even more logical because the Bucs have ties to England. The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, also owns the Manchester United soccer team.

When I was in London for this year's game between the Saints and Chargers, there was a lot of talk that the Bucs would be next in line for this game because of the growing popularity of the Glazer family in England. When they first bought Manchester United, the move was very unpopular and the Glazers were viewed as outsiders.

But that's changed because the Glazers have run Manchester United very well and made no dramatic changes. The move will be popular with Glazer fans in England, but it comes with a downside at home.

This will be a Tampa Bay home game, meaning the Bucs will only have seven games in Raymond James Stadium next year. The game with New England will be played Oct. 25, 2009 at Wembley Stadium.

Bucs next in line for London?

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
4:14
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

There were rumblings in London last week that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be next in line for a trip to England.

Makes sense on one very big level. The Glazers, who own the Bucs, also own English soccer team Manchester United. The Glazers, at first, were vilified as carpetbaggers when they bought the legendary team. But the Glazers have kept things running as usual and have come to be accepted by the British.

The NFL is committed to playing a game at London's Wembley Stadium in 2009 and Commissioner Roger Goodell has said there's a chance there could be two international games next year.

Programming note

October, 26, 2008
10/26/08
11:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

LONDON, England -- I'm signing off from Wembley Stadium. I'll be traveling back to the United States on Monday. Flight doesn't arrive until late at night. I'll be back with you Tuesday.

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