Following consecutive losses and wins by Minnesota and Seattle, the Buccaneers 2015 playoff hopes officially came to an end last Sunday. Still, the young team has plenty to play for over the next two weeks.
In many respects, the New Year has started for Tampa Bay. The final two games present an opportunity to shore up glaring issues – penalties, slow starts and lack of takeaways – while gaining momentum heading into the 2016 season.
A strong finish and an attempt a respectable .500 season starts this Sunday against Lovie Smith’s former team, the Chicago Bears.
On paper, it would appear to be a favorable matchup for Tampa Bay. The Bears 26th ranks run-defense (giving up an average of 125 on the ground) bodes well for the Bucs strategy to get Doug Martin going. The two-time Pro Bowler has 1,305 yards on the ground this season, ranking him second in the league behind the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, who has 1,314. Aside from the NFL’s single-season title, Martin is also chasing the franchise’s mark of 1,544, set by James Wilder in 1884.
Coaches and players, in particular the offensive line, take pride in Martin’s accomplishments and aren’t downplaying the importance of such titles and records. While the Bucs won’t deviate from the game plan, expect an early and often ground attack against a defense that struggles to stop the run and ranks third in the league against the pass.
In order for Martin and Sims to continue carrying the ball throughout the game, though, Tampa Bay has to start fast.
In the last two weeks – losses against the Saints and Rams – the Bucs have fallen into an early deficit and have had to abandon the game plan as a result.
Of course, much of that falls on the shoulders of the defense. The secondary has struggled mightily the past two weeks, surrendering 312 yards to Drew Brees and 234 to Case Keenum on 14 of 17 completions. Not to mention they’ve forced just one takeaway in four games, going 0-3 in contests they didn’t capitalize on a single opportunity. Nothing was stressed more at One Buc place last week than limiting penalties and generating takeaways. The Bucs must flip the trend in each category.
The Bears offense ranks 18th in the league, as Jay Cutler has averaged 234 yards a game during a bounce-back season, while Matt Forte has eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage (768 rushing and 332 receiving) for the eighth time in his career.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s defense will likely continue trying different combinations in the secondary while Bruce Carter is poised to start his second game at inside linebacker. For some, this is a “prove it” type game as they make their case to return in 2016. But, first and foremost, it’s about winning this Sunday and playing whomever gives them the best chance to do so.
The final two games could be a major turning point for the franchise. The Buccaneers have gone 3-18 in December games over the past five years, failing each time to make the playoffs the following season. After a 1-2 start this time around, Lovie Smith and co. would greatly benefit from a strong finish and reason to believe in a positive future. Success breeds confidence and Tampa Bay needs momentum heading into the 2016 offseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8) vs. Chicago Bears (5-9)
Sunday, December 27, 2015, 1:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (65,908)
Network Television: Fox (WTVT Local)
Play-By-Play: Sam Rosen Analyst: Matt Millen Sideline: Peter Schrager
Bucs Radio: US 103.5, Flagship Station (103.5 FM, 620 AM & 95.3 FM)
Play-By-Play: Gene Deckerhoff Analyst: Dave Moore Sideline: T.J. Rives
Last Game: Tampa Bay Lost at St. Louis, 31-23; Chicago Lost at Minnesota, 38-17
Pewter Report’s Predictions
Scott Reynolds: Bucs 26-24
Mark Cook: Bucs 28-27
Eric Horchy: Bucs 31-24
Zach Shapiro: Bucs 27-17
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: [email protected]
I predict there will be a multitude of Bears fans in attendance. Some, who I admire, will travel from the Windy City to soak us some sun before hibernating when they return. Others, for whom I have disdain, have lived here for upwards of 40 years, but look down their noses at our (and their) local team. The worst is when they raise their kids to be Bears fans advancing their “we’re better than you” attitude to the next generation. I’ve never understood the rationale. Never once did I consider remaining a Steelers fan once we got our own team. I wonder if those same transplanted fans wearing Bears colors to the game will call their relatives up north to chide them about the Bears losing to”their” Bucs.
I completely agree with Scubog. I am a season ticket holder with the Bucs and root for them every game. My Philly roots and my time as a Colts season ticket holder are in the past. I live here and the Bucs are my team. Go Bucs!
Moved here from L.I. in 77 when the Bucs were the Yucs, and the Dolphins were the cream of the crop. Never was a Giant, or Jet fan, and it would of been to easy to jump on the Fins band wagon, I don’t do easy. So I fell in love with the poor bastards in those orange uni’s thinking they can’t be bad forever. Patience is a virtue.
Oh I was a big Dolphin Fan when you are a 6th Generation Floridian, but I was there at the beginning of the Bucs and they became and still my team over all other teams. We should win this game with ease; Go Bucs!
Great Fab 5. Very well put together and great comments as well. I haven’t posted much or frequently since I’ve been on vacation last week and this week coming, but Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. Go Bucs, this should be an easy win today!
I think you can like who you want, but I never understood rooting against the home team. I always rooted for my original home team in my Bucs but I left Fl in 1994 and lived in AZ past 16 yrs and even had Cards Season tix for 5 yrs and still attend regularly. I can’t help root for my original team I grew up with but I also cheer for the home team which is now the Cards, I know I like two teams so go ahead and light me up I really don’t care what you think, ha
Nothing the matter with you rooting for your now hometown Cardinals. As well as they are doing, you and your son should bask in the glory with your neighbors. Watched some of the Cardinals vs Packers game and witnessed the same infestation of enemy fans who no doubt retired to Arizona. Looks like, in spite of the great season the Cardinals are enjoying, the season ticket holders will still offer their tickets to the highest bidder…….even if he’s a cheese head.
Its a profiteering business just like how the NFL charges regular season prices for the preseason where there is money to be made it will be made I use to sell my tix to Cowboys Fans and that would pay for 60% of my season ticket prices. My son hasn’t liked the Bucs for about 4 yrs now, constant yrs of losing in Tampa and being around the Cardinals has influenced his loyalty which was to be expected
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