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?
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• The Falcons picked up their second win of the season last Thursday night, winning on the road at Carolina to finish the first half of the season with a 2-6 record. Last year the Falcons were 1-7 at the midpoint but went 6-2 down the stretch to save Dan Quinn’s job. Could Atlanta repeat last year’s second half turnaround? If so interim head catch Raheem Morris could be in play to get the job full time.
• Although the Falcons won last week, they left Carolina with wide receiver Calvin Ridley nursing an injured foot. The good news for Atlanta is the x-rays were negative and Ridley may not miss any action. The Falcons host the Broncos on Sunday. So far this season Ridley has 43 receptions for 657 yards and six scores.
• Atlanta received more good news on the injury from this week as they announced cornerback Darqueze Dennard has been designated for return from injured reserve. Dennard will return to practice this week and might be activated to play against the Broncos on Sunday as he appears recovered from a hamstring injury in Week 3.
• Christian McCaffrey injured his ankle in Week 2 against the Buccaneers and has yet to see the field since. That is about to change – hopefully for the Panthers. McCaffrey was designated to return from injured reserve last week but wasn’t ready to suit up last Thursday night, however head coach Matt Rhule told the media on Monday things are looking better for a return this week agains the Chiefs.
“I think he looks good. It just comes to the doctors and trainers and all those things,” Rhule said. “I’m real hopeful we’ll have him.
“Christian just brings elite production. Days where you’re not great on third down, he’s a tremendous third-down matchup. Explosive runs, catching the ball out of the backfield — he’s one of the best players in the National Football League. I think Christian will bring an energy, a level of production that will make our team better.”
• Despite not having McCaffrey, his fill-in has produced well for the Panthers in his absence. Mike Davis has totaled 519 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns over the last six games. That hasn’t been lost on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“Honestly, everything that Mike has done, that’s what Christian brings to the table as well,” Bridgewater said. “Obviously, Christian coming off the year that he had last year, he’s a guy that’s exceptional. But at the same time, you never want to take away what Mike did for us. For him to step in and do the things that he’s done, he’s been a true pro. He’s been working extremely hard.”
New Orleans Saints
• The NFL trade deadline was Tuesday at 4 p.m. and unlike other professional sports there wasn’t a huge flurry of activity, not that there normally is. However, one of the Bucs division rivals was active making a move with the Saints bringing a familiar face to New Orleans.
The Saints traded for former Bucs’ linebacker Kwon Alexander, sending a fifth-round pick and Kiko Alonso to San Francisco in return for the former LSU standout. The 49ers signed Alexander to a four-year, $54 million contract as a free agent prior to the 2019 and now will assume his salary. Although this appears to be maybe a half-season rental as the Saints are way over the cap for 2021, and that is before we even know how low it will be due to lost revenue caused by the world-wide pandemic. If the Saints keep Alexander it will take some creative maneuvering, as according to Saintswire.com, $276 million is already on the books for 2021, against a salary cap projected to be $175 million.
• The Bucs could be debuting Antonio Brown in their Sunday Night Football matchup with the Saints who might be getting their own impact receiver on the field for the nationally-televised contest for the first time since Week 1.
On ESPN’s Countdown show before Monday Night Football, insider Adam Schefter talked about Thomas’ situation and possible return from injury and apparent hurt feelings. .
“I think he’s been dealing with the ankle injury since the beginning of the year. I think he’s been dealing with the hamstring injury,” Schefter said. “And I think both sides are not over the feelings that were hurt when Michael Thomas disrespected the coaching staff after he had the fight and didn’t want to apologize at that point in time.”
Thomas was set to return in Week 5, but he was held out as a disciplinary measure following an altercation with a teammate in practice and then Thomas suffered a hamstring injury before their Week 7 game that causing him to miss the following two games. I asked Saints head coach Sean Payton about his availability for Sunday on a conference call on Wednesday and Payton would only say he was day-to-day.