NFL Nation: Myron Lewis


When Eric Wright agreed to restructure his contract and take a massive pay cut back in April, it appeared as if he’d be staying with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It turns out that’s not the case. The Bucs announced Friday afternoon that they have traded Wright to the San Francisco 49ers for a late-round conditional draft pick in 2014.

That brings an abrupt ending to a union the Bucs thought would be a good one when they signed Wright to a five-year, $35.2 million contract in 2012. But Wright never really caught on in Tampa Bay.

He missed part of last year’s offseason program while dealing with an undisclosed medical issue. He later was suspended for four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The Bucs traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis and used their top draft pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks. At first, it appeared as if Revis, Wright and Banks would be the team’s top three cornerbacks.

But it now is obvious the Bucs weren’t sold on Wright even at a reduced price. A source said Wright's attitude in recent months didn't conform with what the team likes and the Bucs would have released him if they were unable to trade him. According to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office records, Wright was arrested in California on an unspecified misdemeanor charge July 12.

With Wright gone, Banks becomes the leading candidate to start opposite Revis.

Michael Adams, Leonard Johnson, Myron Lewis, Anthony Gaitor and some other young cornerbacks now will compete for the job as nickel back.

Also, the Bucs will not take any cap hit for unloading Wright. Instead, they freed up his $1.5 million base salary, which becomes San Francisco’s burden.

Eric Wright out for Buccaneers

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A Tampa Bay pass defense that already has been struggling will be without a key component Sunday.

Cornerback Eric Wright will not play against the Atlanta Falcons, coach Greg Schiano told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio on Sunday morning. Wright has been bothered by an Achilles tendon injury in recent weeks.

His absence leaves the Bucs open to all sorts of matchup problems against Atlanta receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Jones is listed as questionable with an ankle injury and we’ll find out if he’s playing within the hour.

Without Wright, the Bucs have E.J. Biggers as one starter. Leonard Johnson has been productive in recent weeks and he and LeQuan Lewis are likely to be the second and third corners. The Bucs also could give Myron Lewis or Danny Gorrer some playing time.

I'll be back with the full list of inactives for both teams a few minutes after they're turned in at 11:30 a.m.

Bucs made right move on Aqib Talib

November, 1, 2012
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded away their best cornerback Thursday, which may sound like a risky move.

But I’ll go ahead right now and cast a vote for Mark Dominik for General Manager of the Year simply for getting something via trade in return for the troubled Aqib Talib. The Bucs said their compensation is New England's fourth-round pick in 2013, which is about three rounds higher than I would have expected. Dominik deserves praise for getting anything in exchange for this guy.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTampa Bay dealt cornerback Aqib Talib to the Patriots in a deadline deal on Thursday.
Heck, Talib isn’t even eligible to play for the Patriots right away. He still has one game left on his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. In a statement released by the Bucs when the suspension was announced, Talib said he took Adderall without a prescription.

There also has been a FOX Sports report that Tampa Bay’s other starting cornerback, Eric Wright, soon will face a similar suspension for using the same substance. If that’s true, it may seem risky to go ahead and trade Talib, but it’s not.

This was a move that was long overdue. And, even though coach Greg Schiano previously said Talib would be back with the Bucs after the suspension, you knew it wouldn’t be for long. Talib’s contract is scheduled to end at the end of the season and I’m pretty sure the Bucs simply would have let him walk into free agency.

From the moment the Bucs hired Schiano, you knew he and Talib were the oddest couple since Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. When Kellen Winslow and Tanard Jackson quickly were shown the door, I was surprised Talib wasn’t with them.

This is a guy the Bucs put up with way too much trouble from in the past. Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris let Talib run amok because he had some talent. But Schiano isn’t Gruden or Morris.

He’s a coach that doesn’t put up with off-field problems. And Talib was a constant problem. He had a well-publicized incident with a cab driver, some altercations with teammates and was charged with assault with a deadly weapon in Texas, although the charges were later dropped.

At times, Talib would give the media the old song and dance about how he’d grown up and matured. But then he’d turn right around and do something immature. Talib had such difficulty managing his anger, I once saw him come very close to getting into a physical altercation with a member of the local media.

The Bucs might have to rely on young guys like Leonard Johnson, Brandon McDonald and Myron Lewis at cornerback in the short term, especially if Wright does face a suspension.

But the Bucs will be better off in the long run without Talib. Even if they had kept him just for the remainder of this season, there’s a pretty good chance they would have faced another headache or two along the way.

This way, the Bucs got rid of a headache and got something in return. That’s a win. Let's see how well Talib and New England coach Bill Belichick get along.

By the way, I now have dropped my dysfunction rating on the Bucs in this earlier column from 35 percent to 25 percent, in light of the Talib trade.

Inactives for the Buccaneers

December, 17, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. -- As expected, Tampa Bay receiver Arrelious Benn (concussion) is inactive for Saturday night’s game with the Dallas Cowboys.

That likely means more playing time for Dezmon Briscoe and Preston Parker.

The other inactives for the Buccaneers are quarterback Rudy Carpenter, receiver Sammie Stroughter, safety Larry Asante, cornerback Myron Lewis, offensive lineman Derek Hardman and offensive tackle James Lee.

Stereotyping the Packers' Jordy Nelson

November, 20, 2011
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Jordy NelsonMatthew Stockman/Getty ImagesJordy Nelson caught six passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- I'm sorry to disappoint you. We had it half-right last week on Jordy Nelson. He does fit a stereotype -- just not the one that seeped its way into national discussion.

The son of farmers and a Kansan, Nelson wears his hair in a crew cut and still squints in front of television camera lights. He physically recoils in the public spotlight and really means it when he says: "I just prefer to do my job every day in practice, and in the game, and then go home and hide out with the family."

Nelson is a blue-collar Midwesterner if there ever was one, a condition that will be increasingly difficult to maintain after a stretch of games that could catapult him to the Pro Bowl. Nelson caught two more touchdown passes Sunday in the Green Bay Packers' 35-26 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including the game-clincher, and brought his season total to nine with six games remaining.

How understated is Nelson? Discussing his performance Sunday, the best word that coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers could come up with was "consistent." Added McCarthy: "I wish I could be more complimentary: He is so consistent and he's the same guy every day, and that’s huge on a lot of different fronts... ."

Which is largely why Nelson seemed so out of place last week in a national discussion about the speed and perception of white receivers. We touched on the topic twice, wondering whether opponents were truly underestimating him because of race or whether they have made a schematic decision to focus on other players in the Packers' offense.

Regardless, Nelson said the issue made him "uncomfortable" as it played out last week. He said he laughed when an official, and even some Bucs players, referenced it on the field Sunday. But you don't have to know Nelson well to recognize he wasn't going to dip his toe into those social waters.

"I hate the spotlight," he said. "I don't like it. That's why, what happened last week, I did not like that one bit. … I don't even deal with race and anything like that. It's something we've discussed in the locker room here, and I hope it didn't offend anybody. … I'm not mad at anybody. I just don't like to be in the spotlight, and that kind of put me out there."

It would be insulting to the Buccaneers to suggest they underestimated Nelson, for racial or any other reasons. Sunday marked his third 100-yard game in the past five weeks, and here are his numbers during the Packers' 16-game winning streak, dating to last season and including playoffs:

Receptions: 67
Yards: 1,255
TDs: 12

"I really don't care how they think," Nelson said, "because honestly, if someone underestimates you, it's better [for me]. But everyone in this league has a job. They watch film. They see what they see. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and keep grinding."

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers has thrown 31 touchdown passes this season, including nine to Jordy Nelson.
I would think opponents are now fully aware that Nelson is not a stereotypical white receiver, if there is such a thing. He can run past anyone, as suggested by his average of 18.7 yards per catch over that 16-game stretch. But there is only so much that can be done while also defending against receiver Greg Jennings, tight end Jermichael Finley and the rest of the Packers' offense.

Sunday, the Buccaneers fruitlessly searched for ways to handle Nelson while not losing sight of the Packers' so-called heavy hitters. Nelson is a starting-caliber receiver whom the Buccaneers mostly tried to defend with backups. Ever heard NFL people talk about having players who can step up when the focus is elsewhere? Nelson hasn't been underestimated; he's the best example of how the Packers' offense is overwhelming opponents on matchups.

Sunday, the Buccaneers tried nickel back E.J. Biggers on Nelson. They rotated cornerback Ronde Barber on him a few times, and for some reason had little-used Myron Lewis matched up in single coverage on third-and-four at the Bucs' 40-yard line with 3 minutes, 1 second remaining in the game.

The Packers were clinging to a 28-26 lead. If you watch the replay, it appears that Nelson put a dirty double-move on Lewis to leave him in the dust for a 40-yard touchdown.

Not so, Mr. Humble said afterward.

Nelson said he thought Rodgers was going to feed him a shorter pass that would be a jump ball.

"So I slowed down a little bit to gather myself to get ready to jump," Nelson said. "And when it came out of his hand, I was like, whoa, that kind of took off. That little hesitation did help myself. The DB did think it was going to be to the back shoulder."

Come on. Nelson wasn't going to say so, but make no mistake: It was a big-time move at a critical moment for a team that is making a run at history. This season, Nelson has showed us that stereotypes can be true. You just have to make sure you've nailed him on the right one.
CHICAGO -- I just got into town and will be covering Sunday’s game between the Falcons and Bears.

The Saints already played Thursday night and we’ve now got the final injury reports from the other three teams, so let’s go ahead and check on the injuries that matter most.

The Falcons already had been saying center Todd McClure would miss the opener with a knee injury. They now have put defensive tackle Corey Peters into that same category. That should clear the way for the Falcons to move Peria Jerry into the starting lineup. If Jerry’s knee is fully healthy, he could keep the starting spot on a permanent basis.

There’s mixed news out of Carolina. The Panthers listed right tackle Jeff Otah (knee) and linebacker Jon Beason (foot) as questionable. The good news is coach Ron Rivera said Otah was just getting a day of rest and will play against Arizona. The bad news is Rivera isn’t sure about Beason. He said a decision on Beason won’t be made until the team gets to Arizona.

Tampa Bay’s only serious injury is cornerback Myron Lewis (ankle). But this isn’t a huge deal for the Bucs. Lewis is behind starters Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib and nickel back E.J. Biggers on the depth chart, and Elbert Mack gives the team additional depth at cornerback.

Observations on the Buccaneers

August, 27, 2011
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The panic that was so widespread among Tampa Bay Buccaneers' fans last week can rest for a bit.

The Bucs did some good things in just about every area in Saturday night’s 17-13 preseason victory against the Miami Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs also did some bad things, but none of them were the kind of mistakes that are unusual for preseason games.

That wasn’t the case in the past week’s loss to the New England Patriots, in which the Bucs did almost nothing positive. Yeah, the Patriots are an annual Super Bowl contender and coach Bill Belichick is known to demand intensity in exhibition games. The Dolphins probably aren’t going to be confused with the Patriots anytime soon, but they’re still a decent team.

Everything’s relative, but the measuring stick on the Bucs looks a lot better than it did a week ago. The defense generated some pressure and LeGarrette Blount flashed some big-play ability as a receiver out of the backfield.

Those are all things the Bucs knew they had to improve on and have been working on throughout the preseason.

Some other observations on the Bucs:
  • The NFL’s decision not to suspend cornerback Aqib Talib during the 2011 season is looking like a blessing. E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis, who would have taken on larger roles if Talib was suspended, both struggled. Biggers got beat by Brandon Marshall on a long touchdown pass and also got flagged for pass interference. Lewis also drew a pass-interference call.
  • There was a brief scary moment when second-year defensive tackle Brian Price went down in the second quarter. Price was playing for the first time since having surgery on his pelvis last year. He stayed down for a minute, walked off the field with the trainers, but returned to the game a few plays later. It didn’t appear the problem had anything to do with the pelvis. It looked like Price just had the wind knocked out of him.
  • Rookie tight end Luke Stocker, who missed most of camp and the first two preseason games with a hip injury, made his debut. He made one nice catch and probably has put himself in line to get some playing time behind Kellen Winslow and in two tight-end sets.
  • The Bucs have said all offseason they want Blount to be a more complete running back in his second season. He ran for 1,000 yards as a rookie, but only caught five passes. Looks like the Bucs have every intention of getting Blount involved in the passing game. He was targeted five times Saturday night and caught three passes for 62 yards, 52 of those came when Blount caught a short pass and made several nice cuts in the open field.
The NFL draft is long over and all we have to look forward to now is free agency, though we don't know when or how it will come or exactly what it will look like.

But if there is a 2011 season, it will have to be preceded by some sort of free-agency period, one last window for teams to fine-tune their rosters with what they couldn't get in the draft.

We’ll spare you most of the boring details of the labor negotiations, but we do have to point out that the rules for a potential free-agency period aren’t set. They could be determined if a new labor agreement is reached and that probably would include some tweaks to past rules. It has long been assumed that if the lockout is lifted before an agreement that free agency rules will be the same as they were in 2010. But word has started to trickle out in the past few days that might not be the case.

At this point, we only can look at hypothetical situations -- all you can do is dream and you might as well dream big. With that in mind, let’s take a look at one free-agency dream scenario for each NFC South franchise.

Atlanta Falcons -- This is the easiest call in the division because you can see it coming like a slow-moving storm or Arthur Blank strolling to the sideline late in a game. Let’s go ahead and make Atlanta’s dream move signing Minnesota defensive end Ray Edwards.

Some of our coming moves are pie-in-the-sky scenarios that probably won’t happen, but this one has serious potential. Edwards has five seasons in the league, which could make him a restricted or unrestricted free agent, depending on the rules of free agency. If at all possible, I think the Falcons will pursue a player who had eight sacks in 14 games last season and 8.5 the season before that.

Edwards is just hitting his prime and sure looks like the one missing link between the Falcons being a team that exits the playoffs early and one that can challenge for the Super Bowl. Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff already put most of their chips on the table when they traded up on draft night to get wide receiver Julio Jones. He’s the explosive player they wanted on offense.

Edwards can be the explosive guy on defense. Carolina’s Charles Johnson, a probable restricted free agent, and Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins could be fall-back options. But the Falcons already have shown strong signs this offseason they’re not interested in falling back.

Carolina Panthers -- Let’s imagine for a moment that Carolina owner Jerry Richardson opens his free-agent checkbook for the first time in several years to bring in cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who has been playing with Cincinnati and is another five-year player.

If Joseph is a free agent, this move would make all sorts of sense. He's a local product, from just over the border in Rock Hill, S.C. He also has nine interceptions the past two seasons. Carolina has Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble, but their futures are very uncertain.

Richardson has had some success in the past bringing local products home -- Stephen Davis, Kevin Donnalley, Ricky Proehl -- and Carolina has invested a lot in its young defensive line and has a good group of linebackers. Joseph could solidify the secondary and new coach Ron Rivera suddenly could have a nice defense. By the way, I know there’s speculation about defensive tackle Tommie Harris ending up with the Panthers because of his Chicago ties to Rivera. That could happen. But I don’t view Harris as a dream scenario. I view him as a guy with questions about his knees, who could be a decent pickup if he can stay healthy.

New Orleans Saints -- This one’s tough because the Saints have a bunch of young and talented, but totally unproven players at outside linebacker. Plus, veteran outside linebacker Scott Shanle can become an unrestricted free agent. The list of players at outside linebacker who definitely will be unrestricted is pretty thin. You could take a veteran such as Detroit’s Julian Peterson and gamble that he’ll regain some of his early-career magic the way some other veterans have with the Saints in recent years. The Saints have shown willingness to gamble on injured guys in the past and Carolina’s Thomas Davis has huge upside.

But Peterson’s no long-term solution and Davis is a total unknown because he’s had two major knee injuries. In a best-case scenario, the Saints will re-sign Shanle. Then, they’ll go after Buffalo’s Paul Posluszny. He’s a four-year player and could end up being restricted. But hey, we can dream.

Put Posluszny with Shanle and Jonathan Vilma and the Saints would be better off at linebacker than they were in 2009, when Shanle and Vilma were joined by Scott Fujita.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- The Bucs spending big money in free agency? Well, they haven’t done it in some time unless you count Derrick Ward, and that didn’t work out. But there’s one sure-fire move that could excite a fan base that wasn’t buying tickets during a 10-6 season in 2010 and put this team over the top: sign cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

Asomugha’s the one true gem we know will be in this free-agent class and his price tag is going to be astronomical. But if there is a salary cap, the Bucs will have more room under it than any team in the league. The Bucs showed a willingness to spend big money once before, offering more to defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth than the Redskins did before Haynesworth went to Washington. There are strong rumors Asomugha will end up in the NFC East, but Tampa Bay can use the lack of a state income tax in Florida, a great natural-grass field, the weather, a team on the rise and coach Raheem Morris (a former defensive backs coach) as selling points.

The future of Aqib Talib is unsure because of off-field problems. Sign Asomugha and the Bucs have a corner more talented than Talib who doesn’t come with the headaches. Put him out there with veteran Ronde Barber, who still plays at a high level, and younger players such as E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis. If the pass-rushers taken in the draft (Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers) work out, Tampa Bay’s corners suddenly could be dominant.

Remember, it’s all hypothetical. But wouldn’t the NFC South be a better and more exciting place if these dream scenarios actually came true?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have issued a statement on the Aqib Talib situation.

It was very short, but it was about two sentences longer than anyone was expecting, because teams aren’t supposed to comment on players during the lockout.

"We are deeply troubled by the serious charges filed against Aqib Talib,’’ general manager Mark Dominik said. “Due to current labor circumstances, we will withhold any further comment or action."

I don’t think the league’s going to crack down on Dominik for making that brief comment. It at least acknowledges the Bucs are troubled by this situation. I think the Bucs will have a lot more to say about Talib as soon as the lockout is over.

As I said in this previous post, I think the Bucs should go ahead and cut all ties with Talib the moment the lockout ends. They've got some other options at cornerback. They have veteran Ronde Barber and some promising young players in E.J. Biggers, Elbert Mack and Myron Lewis and they could look to add to the position in the draft. Talib is a marvelous talent, but he's not worth all the problems that have followed him throughout his career.
Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib is a person of interest to police after an incident in Texas and that’s made him a person of a lot of interest in Tampa Bay.

Talk radio and the newspapers are full of talk about Talib’s future. Again, let’s emphasize that he has not been charged with any crime at this point.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib
AP Photo/Gail BurtonAqib Talib has been involved in several embarrassing incidents during his short career.
But Talib’s had a lengthy history of problems and was suspended for the first game of last season after a violent incident with a cab driver. Even if Talib isn’t charged in the Texas incident, the mere hint he was involved in something less than ideal isn’t going to sit well with the NFL or the Buccaneers.

Once the labor lockout is over, the league could discipline Talib with another suspension and it would probably be more than one game this time. Martin Fennelly writes about another solution. He says the Bucs should simply part ways with Talib.

He mentions the possibility of a trade, but I don’t think the Bucs are going to get much of anything for a guy with Talib’s history. The guy is, at times, one of the best cornerbacks in the league. But he’s also one of the most troubled.

He’s not worth the headaches. Once the lockout is over, the Bucs should shop him for a trade. If they can’t get something right away, they should just go ahead and cut Talib.

It would solve one problem and it might prevent a lot of others. The Bucs took some heat from their fans last season when several players ran into off-field troubles. There’s a perception in the area that coach Raheem Morris lets the Bucs run amok. I don’t know that perception truly matches reality in this case. But, sometimes, you have to deal with perceptions.

The Bucs could send a very loud and clear message to their fans that they’re not going to put up with guys who consistently get into trouble. More importantly, they could cut Talib and send a message to the rest of their players that they’re not going to put up with problems no matter how talented a player might be.

It wouldn’t be all that hard. The Bucs have some other talented cornerbacks in Ronde Barber, E.J. Biggers, Elbert Mack and Myron Lewis and they could add someone else in the draft or free agency.

And there’s one other reason why it would be easy to simply cut Talib -- and don’t underestimate the importance of this. It would be financially painless.

Talib presently is scheduled to earn $1,653,750 in base salary in 2011. He’s also got escalator and incentive clauses that could boost his $1,852,5000 base salary in 2012. At the moment, his scheduled salary-cap figure for 2011 is $1,953,750.

If the Bucs cut Talib, they take a $600,000 cap hit for outstanding signing-bonus proration, but they would free up $1,353,750 in salary-cap space.
Let’s be very clear from the start that no charges have been filed. But there are reports Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib is a “person of interest’’ in a March 21 incident in Texas in which gunshots reportedly were fired.

Again, Talib has not been arrested and the investigation is ongoing. But even the hint of Talib possibly being involved in something like this has to have the Buccaneers upset and nervous.

Talib
Talib
Talib is one of the most talented young cornerbacks in the league and coaches and scouts from all over will tell you he has many moments when he plays at a Pro Bowl level. But Talib’s short career already has been marred by a history of trouble.

He got into a fight with a teammate at the 2008 rookie symposium. In a 2009 minicamp, he got into a fight with a teammate, swung his helmet and wound up hitting another player in the face. Talib also was suspended for the first game of last season as punishment for a 2009 incident with a cab driver.

The Bucs declined comment, which is understandable since there hasn’t been an arrest and the current labor lockout prevents them from having any contact with Talib or any of their players. Like the rest of us, the Bucs will have to wait to see how this sorts out. Even if the Bucs wanted to take a proactive move and discipline or release Talib, they can’t do it now due to the lockout.

You can bet the Bucs and the NFL will be keeping a close eye on this if it develops into anything more significant. There can be no suspensions during the lockout, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during last week’s NFL owners meeting that players’ actions during the lockout will be subject to disciplinary action when the labor situation is resolved.

With one suspension already under his belt, Talib could face a longer suspension. As the Buccaneers prepare for the draft, this could impact their strategy and the secondary could become a bigger priority.

Safety Tanard Jackson already is serving a one-year suspension and isn’t eligible to apply for reinstatement until late September. The Bucs have some promising young players in cornerbacks E.J. Biggers, Elbert Mack and Myron Lewis and safeties Cody Grimm and Corey Lynch, but the possibility of being without their two best players in the secondary could change their thinking.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
12/29/10
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Certain New Orleans linebackers and defensive linemen. There’s no exact list, but it was guys from those two position groups who went out and posed for pictures on the Atlanta Falcons’ logo after Monday night’s game. The Saints say it was harmless and that they frequently take pictures to commemorate big victories. But there are unwritten rules in the NFL and these guys might have broken a big one by at least giving the appearance they were gloating. Not a real good idea because the Saints could end up coming back to the Georgia Dome in the playoffs and you can bet that Atlanta coach Mike Smith is going to have photos of the Saints celebrating hanging all over his locker room.

2. Roddy White, wide receiver, Falcons. If you’re going to spout off on Twitter or anywhere, it’s a good idea to come out and back it up. White didn’t quite do that with his 43 receiving yards in Monday night’s loss to the Saints.

3. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Falcons. He didn’t have a disastrous game against the Saints, but Ryan needs to win a few more games like that before we firmly put him in the elite category or put him ahead of Drew Brees.

[+] EnlargeFrank Okam
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaFrank Okam stepped up in a big way for the Bucs on Sunday.
RISING

1. Frank Okam, defensive tackle, Buccaneers. It’s only one game, but Okam took a big stride in possibly shedding the underachiever label that’s been with him for most of his career. In Sunday’s victory against Seattle, Okam played a major role in shutting down the running game. With rookie starters Gerald McCoy and Brian Price lost to injuries, Okam stepped in and produced seven tackles, including two for losses. With McCoy, Price and Roy Miller all returning next year, Okam has a good chance to stick around as the fourth tackle for the long haul.

2. Drew Brees, quarterback, Saints. He didn’t have a great game by any measure Monday night. But, when it mattered most, Brees drove his team 90 yards to victory. That’s why he’s firmly in the “elite’’ category.

3. Myron Lewis and E.J. Biggers, cornerbacks, Buccaneers. Things really could have gotten out of hand after Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay’s best cornerback, went down with a season-ending injury. But Biggers and Lewis have stepped up and kept Tampa Bay’s secondary respectable. Biggers has been starting and Lewis, who wasn’t a factor early in his rookie season, has taken over as the nickelback and played well. Biggers and Lewis were part of the reason Seattle’s Mike Williams caught only two passes Sunday.
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to do it without two of their best players.

The team announced just a little bit ago that center Jeff Faine (triceps) and cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) are going on injured reserve after getting hurt in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta.

Talib has been perhaps Tampa Bay’s best defensive player and an anchor in a secondary that’s been one of the team’s strongest units despite the loss of safety Tanard Jackson to suspension early in the season and a recent season-ending injury for rookie safety Cody Grimm. Even after Talib went down Sunday, the Tampa Bay secondary held up relatively well in pass coverage.

E.J. Biggers likely will have to step into Talib’s starting spot and rookie Myron Lewis could start getting more playing time. The Bucs also will have to juggle things on the offensive line.

Jeremy Zuttah, who played some center earlier in the season when Faine had another injury, had been playing some at guard. The Bucs already lost guard Davin Joseph to a season-ending injury. Zuttah likely will slide back to center.

Final Word: NFC South

December, 3, 2010
12/03/10
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13.

[+] EnlargeMichael Spurlock
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Falcons have reconfigured their special teams coverage after Micheal Spurlock returned the ball for 209 yards in their previous match.
Point of no returns. The last time Tampa Bay and Atlanta got together (earlier this season in the Georgia Dome) Micheal Spurlock almost single-handedly knocked off the Falcons with a few huge kickoff and punt returns. I wouldn’t look for that to happen again. Mike Smith and his coaching staff sat down after that one and made some major changes to their coverage units. They switched where some guys line up and they also brought a couple of starters, most notably defensive end Kroy Biermann, onto the coverage units. Since then, the Falcons haven’t been giving up much in the way of returns.

Storm brewing. I just looked at the weather forecast for Cincinnati on Sunday and it’s not very pretty. The Saints are a much better team than the Bengals. But with the temperature near freezing and the possibility of snow, this could be a very tough game for New Orleans. They’re a team built for a dome, or at least good weather. Sean Payton may have to change his game plan and run Chris Ivory and Reggie Bush more than usual, and it would be nice if Bush did a better job of holding onto the ball than he did in Dallas on Thanksgiving.

Turnover-free zone. We’ve already talked several times about how the Falcons have gone four straight games without a turnover. But we’re going to do it again now because this is significant. If Atlanta can go without a turnover against the Bucs, the Falcons will become the first team since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to go five consecutive games without turning the ball over. If they do that, I think chances are pretty good they’ll also extend their winning streak to six games and get their 10th victory of the season.

Safety dance. Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris has been a little coy about his plans at safety after Cody Grimm's season ended when broke his left ankle. We may see some of Corey Lynch back there. He’s mainly been a special-teams guy but has been working in this defensive system in practice all year. I also think you might see cornerback Ronde Barber get some time at safety -- or maybe even some sort of hybrid position. What I’m saying is, if I’m Morris, I’m putting Aqib Talib on Roddy White all day. That’s strength against strength. Then, I’m looking at Atlanta’s other receiving weapons -- tight end Tony Gonzalez and receiver Michael Jenkins. I’d take my chances and let E.J. Biggers, Myron Lewis or Elbert Mack handle Jenkins, who is a role player. No matter if you line him up at safety or cornerback, I’d put Barber on Gonzalez and let the two veterans go at it.

An instant classic. Ah, there’s so much to say about this epic matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks. But we’re limited on space here, so we’ll keep it short. If John Fox really wants to get back at the people who are letting his contract run out, he should go out and win this game and maybe one or two more and cost Carolina the first pick in next year’s draft. That’s about the only thing the Panthers have to shoot for right now.

Bucs minus three starters

November, 14, 2010
11/14/10
12:08
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. – No major surprises among Tampa Bay’s inactives, but the Bucs will be without several injured starters.

Defensive end Kyle Moore, linebacker Quincy Black and fullback Earnest Graham are inactive. Injured defensive tackle Ryan Sims also is inactive. Receiver Sammie Stroughter, defensive back Myron Lewis and offensive lineman Will Barker also are inactive.

Rudy Carpenter has been designated as the third quarterback.

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