Behind Enemy Lines is a look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every week. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?

Atlanta Falcons

• The Falcons will be in the market for a new head coach and general manager this offseason, but could that new head coach actually be wearing the headsets right now?

Acting general manager Rich McKay said recently that interim head coach Raheem Morris deserves to be considered once the season is over.

Arthur Blank and Rich McKay
Arthur Blank and Rich McKay – Photo by: USA Today

“He will definitely, in the process, be interviewed,” McKay said. “He’s earned that right. I’ve known Raheem a long time. I remember when we hired him in Tampa as an assistant secondary coach. He is really a good football coach. He inherited a situation. We were 0-5. When you’re an interim coach with 11 weeks to go, that’s more than challenging. He’s earn that right to be interviewed and he will.”

Since taking over for a fired Dan Quinn, Morris has led the Falcons to a 4-5 record despite numerous injuries to key contributors on both sides of the ball. And the Bucs players and coaches will tell you the Falcons certainly haven’t packed it for the year as evidenced by them taking the Bucs to the wire last Sunday.

• Despite a lackluster running performance against the Bucs on Sunday, Morris told the media this week that third-string running back Ito Smith will now be the team’s starter over the final two weeks of the season. This despite paying Todd Gurley and Brian Hill a combined $7.6 million this year. Smith started Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay and ran for 24 yards on six carries.

• Another week, and another Falcons player is going on the COVID list. The Falcons placed practice squad defensive end Austin Edwards to their reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday. As in most cases, it wasn’t made known if Edwards tested positive himself or came in contact with someone who has.

Carolina Panthers

• New Panthers owner David Tepper surprised many making a big move within the organization this week, firing general manager Marty Hurney on Monday.

“I think sometimes you just need a restart, a refresh,” Tepper  said according to the team’s website. “We did it last year on the coaching side. Maybe you could say it should have been done before on the G.M. side. Maybe it should have been. I’m sure people may say that, or otherwise, on both sides. I think it’s just time, on both sides, to do that. It just seems like the right time to move forward.”

Tepper told the local media on a conference call this week that he doesn’t plan to use an outside third-party firm in the GM search this offseason and that head coach Matt Rhule would have some input on the decision.

• The Panthers dumped Cam Newton for Teddy Bridgewater this past offseason and the results haven’t been what many were expecting.

Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater
Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater – Photo by: USA Today

Tepper told the media that Bridgewater, like all players, will be evaluated this offseason and the team might be looking for an upgrade.

“I think when you get to quarterbacks and NFL in general, you always want to try to figure out, do you have the best that’s in the position of this right now?” Tepper said on Monday. “And that’s constant evaluation and re-evaluation of that. And that’s what we’ll constantly go through.

“It’s an ongoing process and it’s a question of who can be that guy that can help you win. That’s the most important position on the field. Unless you have that guy for sure that gets you to playoffs and Super Bowls, you have to keep reevaluating that because that’s the only thing that matters is Super Bowls. And until you have that guy, you’re evaluating, evaluating, evaluating every year.”

Bridgwater’s stats this season have been solid, but he’s failed to lead the Panthers to a come-from-behind win in 2020 in eight tries. On the year Bridgewater has thrown for 3,360 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

• Fingers crossed by the organization and their fans, Christian McCaffrey could be back at practice this week and play this weekend according to Rhule.

“I’m hopeful to see him practice on Wednesday,” Rhule said according to ESPN. “If he can, then I think we’re on track. If he can’t, then I probably would just give those reps to Mike [Davis] and Rodey [Smith] and prepare them to play. It’s been a long time for Christian in terms of practicing, so even if he’s healthy to play, he’ll need to practice some. So I’ll have a better feel Wednesday, but I think there’s a possibility.”

McCaffrey who was made the highest-paid running back in the NFL this offseason has played in just three games this year, suffering an ankle, a shoulder and a thigh injury.

New Orleans Saints

• The Saints appeared to be on cruise control just a couple games ago with a four-game lead in the NFC South and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Two weeks and two losses later the Saints are struggling to hold off a late charge from Tampa Bay.

Last week the Saints dropped their second game in a row losing to the red hot Chiefs 32-29 even though injured quarterback Drew Brees was back in the lineup for the first time since breaking multiple ribs and suffering a punctured lung. The Saints rallied late but Brees’ overall performance (15-of-34 for 234 yards with three touchdowns and an interception) was very un-Brees like.

Saints QB Drew Brees
Saints QB Drew Brees – Photo by: USA Today

The future Hall of Famer said following the game he is working himself back into form.

“I think being able to throw the ball good enough and that was kind of a ramp up from last week into early this week and throughout practice,” Brees said. “I still have a little way to go, I’ll be honest. There are some things I am still kind of working on, but it is what it is.”

• In the game against the Chiefs, defensive end Cam Jordan was ejected in the second half after throwing a punch. Jordan apologized for hurting his team after the game with a Twitter post.

“No excuses! No matter how I feel about it, an ejectable offense was the outcome, I hurt the squad, and in the 4th qtr on a crucial drive! that’s on me! This loss on me! Can’t happen! Whatever the correction I will be better.”

Most Bucs fans felt it was karma after Jordan threw a haymaker in the Week 1 match-up with the Buccaneers but wasn’t even flagged for slugging a Tampa Bay player in the pile clearly seen on replay.

• The 2019 leading reception leader Michael Thomas has struggled to stay healthy following an ankle sprain against the Buccaneers in the season opener, and on Monday the Saints placed their top play-maker on injured reserve. Thomas will be back in time for the playoffs and head coach Sean Payton talked about the decision to place Thomas on injured reserve.

“He was grinding and productive, catching eight balls, nine balls, but it wasn’t going to get better until football stopped just by the nature of the ankle sprain,” Payton said. “If it was win this one and you’re in, then our approach would’ve been much different.”

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