The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended their 39th NFL season in historic fashion, but there wasn’t any celebrating following Sunday’s 23-20 loss to New Orleans.
This is the fifth time the Bucs have finished with only two wins, matching the woeful teams of 1977, 1983, 1985 and 1986, but it’s only the second season in franchise history that ended without a win at home. Only the inaugural 0-14 1976 Buccaneers can claim that ignominious home-turf distinction.
Because schedules didn’t expand to 16 games until 1978, this year’s eight home losses tops even Rich McKay’s Creamsicles from ’76 by a game.
This also represents Tampa Bay’s first 0-6 finish as a member of the NFC South and the first time the Bucs went winless in division play since 1976.
Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith took to the podium at One Buccaneer Place for the final time this regular season before Sunday’s finale against New Orleans.
“Injury list: Mason Foster did not practice again, but it’s not like he pulled his Achilles any more or anything like that – we just kind of kept him off of it all week to help the chances for him to play Sunday if we get to that point. Again, it is tough when you don’t practice all week. Everybody else should be available for us to play, which is good this late in the year to have that many options. We realize what’s at stake. We’ve been here a lot of different Fridays; down to the last one. One last chance to get a look at some of our players. One last chance to get a home win, to just kind of show up and play better.”
(On the team signing wide receiver Louis Murphy to a multi-year extension today)
“I should have kind of started off the press conference with that. He’s been a consistent performer from our offseason workouts – showing up every day, he’s done everything, he’s competed hard, he started at the bottom and worked himself up. Big performer during the game. Fought through that injury and [was] injured in training camp, not on the roster the first couple of weeks. But he’s just been one of our guys, and you want to reward players that take it a long way and earn it the right way. We like him. When he was healthy and ready to go as our third receiver, he did some positive things and [is] somebody that we want to keep building with.”
(On keeping players focused during a tough season)
“There are some things that you have to go through before you win I think, on the scoreboard. We’re deciding what our culture, what our locker room, what our team will look like and we’ve gotten a lot of those things done. Guys show up, they’ve stayed out of trouble, done what we’ve asked them to do, so we do take some things that won’t show up right now as we start building that are positive. We know that eventually those will lead to wins for us. That’s kind of where we are which is a great thing and I know those that can’t wait for those wins to start coming. I’m going to say it one more time, we have one more chance to let those guys give us one more look to let us know what they want to do in the future.”
(On how he spent Christmas)
”Great day, whenever you can be around family for me, being a granddad and all, these are great – someone asked me ‘Did you have a good Christmas yesterday?’ I said ‘No, I didn’t. I had a great Christmas yesterday.’ I hope we can finish it up with a great weekend too.”
Hours after the team announced it had signed wide receiver Louis Murphy to a 3-year contract extension, the 27-year-old veteran addressed the local media Friday afternoon about his belated Christmas present.
“Best Christmas ever,” the St. Petersburg native and graduate of Lakewood High and the University of Florida said in the media room at One Buc Place. Instead of speaking to the press on the field immediately following Friday’s final practice of the season, Murphy chose to wait until he officially inked his name on his new deal.
The team has yet to release the exact terms of the 3-year deal, but Murphy said he’s thankful for the opportunity to play for his hometown team.
“Being home playing for the Bucs – I’ve been a Bucs fan my entire life – for this deal to be done I’m thankful and like I said words can’t explain how I feel right now,” he said. “It’s a blessing. It took me six years to get to this point and it’s been a tough road. I commend my family for being there and sticking by my side. It means everything, it’s a blessing and I can’t take any of the credit. I’m a firm believer in Christ and I just believe that things happen for a reason.”
Tampa Bay is Murphy’s fourth NFL stop in his six-year career. He spent his first three season (2009-11) in Oakland, then bounced to Carolina in 2012 and the New York Giants in 2013 before getting picked up by the Bucs this past offseason.
Head coach Lovie Smith said Murphy’s extension is an example of what can be achieved with a strong work ethic and determined effort.
“He’s been a consistent performer from our offseason workouts,” Smith said Friday afternoon. “He’s been showing up every day, he’s done everything, he’s competed hard. He started at the bottom and worked himself up and he performed.
“But he’s just been one of our guys and you want to reward players who have taken the long way and earned it the right way. So we like him and when he was healthy and ready to go, he was our third receiver, did some positive things and he’s somebody that we want to keep building with.”
Coming to work every day with a goal-oriented mindset is something Murphy said his father instilled into him long ago.
“My dad always told me growing up, ‘When preparation and opportunity meet it equals success,’ ” Murphy said. “So this year I wrote it on my bathroom wall and just took that every day, this opportunity that I have, don’t let it slip by.
“Early on in the game you can drop a ball and be like, ‘Aw, well I got another chance at this.’ The road that I’ve taken and the road that I had to go through, I was like, ‘No, I’m not letting anything slip through the cracks.’ And that’s just how I’m going to keep it and take that mindset from here on out.”
The 2014 Bucs season has mostly been one to forget and Murphy’s year ended during Week 15’s home loss to Carolina after recording 31 receptions for 380 yards and two touchdowns. But Murphy believes this team is headed in the right direction and wants to be here when things turn for the better.
“I believe in this team, I believe in Coach Lovie, I believe in the organization – Jason [Licht], Coach Lovie, our receivers coach [Coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker] – I believe in all the guys that are in that locker room regardless of what the record says,” Murphy said. “I believe that we’re going to be contenders in the future and I want to be part of it. I want to see it turn around.”
The Battle of the McCowns may never come to fruition on an NFL field after all.
Despite Sunday’s game between Tampa Bay and New Orleans holding no postseason implications for either team, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is expected to be under center, head coach Sean Payton said.
“Absolutely,” Payton said during his Wednesday phone interview with Tampa Bay media memebers. “All of our guys are playing. Like I said, our approach to this game would be much like we needed to win this game. All of our guys will be a full go.”
New Orleans’ backup at the quarterback position is Luke McCown, younger brother of Bucs signal caller Josh McCown. Big brother (35 years old) mentioned the possibility of squaring off against little brother (33 years old) during his weekly “Bucs Total Access” radio show Tuesday. While Josh McCown said it would be exciting for them and their family, the team’s still preparing for and expecting to see No. 9 in black and gold Sunday.
Luke McCown has been a second-stringer throughout the majority of his 11 years in the league that includes a four year stretch (2005-08) in Tampa Bay. He started three games during that span and they all came during the Bucs’ last playoff season in 2007. His game action has dropped off precipitously of late, having thrown just one regular-season pass in the past three years. That was an incompletion last season.
Unless Payton decides to change his mind mid-game, Bucs defenders will continue preparing for another meeting with Brees. Tampa Bay lost the first rendition at New Orleans in overtime in Week 5, as the All-Pro threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns on 35 of 57 passing. Bucs defenders did pick Brees off three times, however; marking the most interceptions he’s tossed all season.
The Buccaneers and Saints released their first injury reports of the week on Wednesday.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LB Mason Foster – Achilles – Did Not Participate
CB Isaiah Frey – Ankle – Did Not Participate
S Dashon Goldson – Shoulder – Did Not Participate
WR Robert Herron – Hip – Limited Participation
WR Solomon Patton – Foot – Full Participation
RB Bobby Rainey – Wrist – Full Participation
New Orleans Saints
T Terron Armstead – Hamstring – Did Not Participate
DE Akiem Hicks – Ankle – Did Not Participate
NT John Jenkins – Abdomen – Did Not Participate
S Jamarca Sanford – Hamstring – Did Not Participate
T Zach Strief – Neck – Did Not Participate
RB Pierre Thomas – Ribs – Did Not Participate
Tuesday afternoon Tampa Bay announced one of its final transactions of the regular season by signing a second-year safety to its practice squad.
The chances of Shelton Johnson being activated for the final game of the season are about as good as the Glazers doling out partial refunds to fans Sunday afternoon for having to endure such a miserable season. Still, that shouldn’t stop the 24-year-old from trying to take full advantage of any and every opportunity that comes his way to catch someone’s eye and increase his odds of getting invited to camp in 2015.
But that’s the situation for plenty of current, active Buccaneers role players and fill-ins as the season finale nears. Defensive linemen Larry English, T.J. Fatinikun and Da’Quan Bowers, linebackers Orie Lemon and Dane Fletcher, cornerback Brandon Dixon, safety Keith Tandy, receiver Russell Shepard, offensive linemen Garrett Gilkey and Patrick Omameh – guys like this fill every 53-man roster.
Some will be back, some probably won’t, and Sunday’s the last chance for players to put game action on tape and state their cases.
“We’ve been saying another and another, but now it’s the last time [to make a] lasting impression,” head coach Lovie Smith said. “You remember the last thing that you see most of the time. We’ve talked about Gerald, Lavonte and Mike Evans – we know what they are – but for some of the other players that haven’t done an awful lot yet or haven’t gotten the opportunity, these are valuable reps for them to show us first, I want to be here and as we rise I’m going to be a part that and [second], I’m going to be one of the reasons that we come up. This is an important football game.”
Two prime examples of players coming out of the woodwork to become regular contributors in Tampa Bay already exist on the roster. Injuries allowed linebacker Danny Lansanah and defensive end Jacquies Smith to gain more reps and both seized their individual moments.
Lovie Smith said the evaluation process to successfully mine out those hidden gems never stops at this level and will continue through Sunday.
“I think we’ve seen in these last weeks [that] we’ve had more guys coming through and working them out on the practice squad – moving up, going down,” he said. “We’ve looked at a lot of different players so I think just about everyone we have here, except of course the safety we brought in this week, we’ve seen. I think maybe there’s a couple we’ll try to get up this week.
“When I say we’re doing everything we can to win, that can be playing some young players, too. Guys like Josh Allen haven’t gotten a lot of time, so we’ve given more reps to him, Kevin Pamphile, some of our [offensive] linemen that haven’t had a lot of reps we’ll continue to try and get them some.”
The Buccaneers and Packers released their final injury reports of the week on Friday. Updates in BOLD denote a change from the previous day.
LB Mason Foster – Achilles – Limited Participation – QUESTIONABLE
CB Isaiah Frey – Ankle – Did Not Participate – QUESTIONABLE
S Dashon Goldson – Shin – Limited Participation – QUESTIONABLE
DT Clinton McDonald – Hamstring – Full Participation – QUESTIONABLE
T Kevin Pamphile – Ankle/Knee – Full Participation – QUESTIONABLE
WR Solomon Patton – Foot – Full Participation – QUESTIONABLE
RB Bobby Rainey – Wrist – Full Participation – PROBABLE
S Major Wright – Ribs – Limited Participation – OUT
T Bryan Bulaga – Concussion – Limited Participation – QUESTIONABLE
CB Davon House – Shoulder – Did Not Participate – OUT
RB Eddie Lacy – Eye – Limited Participation – PROBABLE
G T.J. Lang – Ankle – Limited Participation – PROBABLE
LB Clay Matthews – Biceps – Limited Participation – PROBABLE
LB/DE Mike Neal – Abdomen – Limited Participation – PROBABLE
LB Nick Perry – Shoulder – Limited Participation – PROBABLE
G Josh Sitton – Toe – Limited Participation – PROBABLE
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier stated Thursday that safety Major Wright won’t be available Sunday, meaning Bradley McDougald is set to see the bulk of Sunday’s snaps at strong safety for a the fourth straight week.
“The injury with Major has played a factor in Bradley’s snaps going up,” Frazier said during his press conference today at One Buccaneer Place. “We’re not going to have Major again this week, so that’s tough, but it also means Bradley gets more snaps and gets more experience and we get more views of what he can and can’t do against a very good offense and against a very good quarterback, so that’s going to help us in the long term.”
McDougald’s status among Bucs defensive backs has steadily risen throughout this year, beginning when the team dealt Mark Barron to St. Louis following Week 8’s overtime loss to Minnesota. A second-year pro out of the University of Kansas, McDougald hadn’t seen more than 12 defensive snaps in a game until Week 9 in Cleveland when he got in for 31.
McDougald’s started the past three games at strong safety and his defensive reps have increased from 59 to 60 to a career-high 71 last week in Carolina. He also recorded his most productive statistical game of his young career against the Panthers, accounting for a game-high 15 total tackles.
Besides starting free safety Dashon Goldson, the only other healthy, active safety on the Tampa Bay roster is Keith Tandy.
Aaron Rodgers dominates the spotlight in Green Bay.
The 10th-year pro is an NFL and Super Bowl MVP. He’s on track to be fit for a gold jacket in Canton. He’s responsible for the Discount Double Check and bringing Hans and Franz back, for Pete’s sake.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Bucs safety Dashon Goldson said of facing the three-time Pro Bowler. “Everybody knows who Aaron Rodgers is in this league and around this locker room and what he can do week in and week out.”
Rodgers is likely going to surpass 4,000 yards passing Sunday for the fifth time in his career, needing just 163 in Tampa Bay, and has thrown for 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions through 14 games.
But opponents of Green Bay can ill-afford to come down with “Aaron Rodgers fever,” as Goldson said Wednesday in reference to the quarterback’s wide-spread popularity. This Green Bay offense is packed with established stars and those rising to similar heights. They’re not all primarily involved in the passing game, either
Second-year running back Eddie Lacy broke onto the NFL scene last season with 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games. He may join Rodgers by reaching a single-season milestone on Sunday, too, if he hits 60 yards on the ground. Lacy currently sits at 940 yards and eight touchdowns rushing to go with 396 yards and four scores receiving.
At 5-foot-11, 230 pounds, the 24-year-old is a hard-running back who’s a load to handle when he gets moving. According to Pro Football Focus, 538 of Lacy’s 940 yards rushing have been picked up after contact.
Known for playing his own physical brand of football, Goldson at first downplayed the challenge of facing a bruising back like Lacy, but said it’s going to take a collective effort to slow him down.
“It ain’t nothing but football, just tackling, no matter how big [a player is],” Goldson said. “We just have to get him on the ground and can’t allow any explosive plays. We’re aware of what he is and how he runs. He’s a strong runner for sure, downhill guy, and you can’t underestimate his speed, either.”
Bucs defensive tackle Akeem Spence will see plenty of game time again Sunday with Gerald McCoy’s deactivation and said he thinks dealing with Rodgers should become incrementally more manageable if Lacy can be bottled up early.
“First we have to knock the run out and slow Eddy Lacy down,” Spence said. “Therefore they can’t be two-dimensional. [We have to] try to make Aaron Rodgers throw the ball 40 or 50 times and try to beat us with his arm, which he can do. But at the same time, that’s when the front has to takeover, the rush has to get there and we have to try our best to get him on the ground.”
That’s a dicey proposition and Rodgers is 2-1 this year when attempting 40 or more passes, including the lone loss last week in Buffalo when he went 17 of 42 for 185 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. In those three games, Rodgers combined completion percentage does dip to 52.4 compared to his 64.0 season-long rate. His touchdown-to-interception rate in those first two games prior to Buffalo, however, was 6-0.
The official status of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy won’t be revealed until the coming week, but two straight Sundays of seeing the All-Pro laying on the field grabbing for his knee should be enough.
Head coach Lovie Smith announced the injury to be a hyperextension of the same right knee McCoy aggravated last Sunday in Detroit.
Team physicians may make the decision an easy one by saying the injury is season-ending. But even if he’s able to go for one or both of Tampa Bay’s remaining two games, is it really worth it?
The face of the franchise wants to play alongside the rest of his teammates whether the team’s 2-12 or 12-2 and he said as much last week when speaking about having to leave early in Detroit.
Reality is that this season can finish no better than 4-12 but it can end much worse that 2-14 if McCoy gets the green light, re-takes the field and makes a bad situation worse.
Until now, the fifth-year pro has enjoyed nearly three straight seasons of good, physical health after his first two years were marred by a pair of torn biceps. A broken hand forced McCoy to sit out the 14th game of his career during Week 3 in Atlanta this year.
Regardless of the team-leading 8.5 sacks McCoy’s produced in 2014, he should be shut down for the 15th and 16th times in his career even if he’s cleared to go next week.