The Bucs host the Falcons on Monday night and the Pewter Report staff shares our thoughts on the game and predict the final outcome.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (4-9) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (8-5)
MONDAY, DECEMBER 18, 8:30 P.M. ET
RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM (64,428)
NETWORK TELEVISION: ESPN
PLAY-BY-PLAY: SEAN MCDONOUGH ANALYST: JON GRUDEN SIDELINE: LISA SALTERS BUCS RADIO: 98ROCK, FLAGSHIP STATION (WXTB-97.9 FM)
PLAY-BY-PLAY: GENE DECKERHOFF ANALYST: DAVE MOORE SIDELINE: T.J. RIVES
LAST GAME: TAMPA BAY LOST VS. DETROIT, 24-21; ATLANTA WON VS. NEW ORLEANS, 20-17
PewterReport.com Publisher and Bucs Beat Writer Scott Reynolds
The Buccaneers’ rematch against the visiting Atlanta Falcons is merely the undercard for the main event on Monday night, which is the induction of former head coach and current ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden into the Bucs Ring of Honor at halftime. Of all of the previous seven Bucs Ring of Honor inductees none will have the drama and perhaps the excitement of Gruden’s, merely because of the fact that there is speculation swirling that Gruden could return to coaching in the NFL next year – possibly in Tampa Bay as Dirk Koetter’s replacement. With the Bucs mired in an incredibly disappointing 4-9 season, Koetter is on the hot seat and his team has currently lost three in a row.
One of those losses came a few weeks ago in Atlanta where Tampa Bay lost on the road, 34-20, when wide receiver Julio Jones caught 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith refused to play man coverage against Jones and line up the team’s best cornerback, Brent Grimes, against him for the entire game. In fact, the Falcons steered clear of Grimes for most of the game and instead chose to line up Jones against second-year cornerback Ryan Smith, who struggled mightily. After that November 26 game, Koetter said that the Bucs used over a dozen different defenses against the player he and Mike Smith coached for years in Atlanta, but they didn’t use the best and most obvious one – using Grimes to cover Jones – and it’s those types of decisions that have this coaching staff in danger of losing its job at the end of the year.
Smith’s job will be even more difficult this time as his defense will be playing without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who suffered a biceps injury last week, in addition to linebacker Lavonte David, who suffered a hamstring injury and is also listed as out. The Bucs might not have enough upper echelon defenders this week to stop Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel and Jones.
Offensively, quarterback Jameis Winston, who didn’t play Atlanta in the first go-round, needs to bounce back from a three-turnover performance in last week’s home loss to Detroit. Peyton Barber should get the start – and more carries – over Doug Martin, who has really struggled this year (like he did last year) and the Bucs will need to win first and second down with the run game to set up manageable third down situations
Left tackle Donovan Smith’s knee injury is one to watch, as he will be going against former Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who has a career-high nine sacks and two forced fumbles. Clayborn didn’t have a sack in the November game, but rookie defensive end Tak McKinley did. Pass protection could be a big issue for the Bucs’ makeshift offensive line that is playing without center Ali Marpet and features second-year right tackle Caleb Benenoch. Atlanta’ secondary is susceptible to giving up some big plays, so good pass protection will be critical to allow Winston time to find Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson down the field.
Reynolds’ Score Prediction: Falcons Win, 34-23
Reynolds’ Pick To Click: WR Mike Evans
PewterReport.com editor and Beat Writer Mark Cook
David versus Goliath. The 1980 US Men’s hockey team vs. the Soviet Union. Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed. Daniel LaRusso versus Johnny Lawrence of the Cobra Kai.
An early Christmas present? Do you believe in miracles?
Me neither. Well some miracles, however when it was announced on Saturday that Vernon Hargreaves, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David would miss Monday night’s rematch with the Falcons, any thoughts I had of picking the upset went out the window.
This game means a ton for Atlanta, not so much for the Bucs. While there is pewter pride on the line, the Buccaneers season was essentially over weeks ago. With that said, I don’t believe the Bucs get completely embarrassed on national television and will make it a competitive game. I expect the “Monday Night Football effect” to make a difference, at least early on, as Bucs players know their peers will be watching and this is a chance to show off for the rest of the nation that they aren’t maybe as bad as their 4-9 record says they are.
The problem is, I see no reason to believe that the Bucs penchant for self-inflicted errors will change. Week in and week out, this team has made a season of finding ways to lose, and more often than not, the reasons are more on them than their opponents. Why will it change on Monday?
There is little need to get into the obvious (stopping Julio Jones, generating a pass rush etc..) we all know what the Bucs have to do. But will it happen? I am not betting on it.
For the Bucs to really have any chance it will fall on the shoulders of quarterback Jameis Winston and the play calling of Dirk Koetter. The Bucs must score. A lot. There can’t be any meltdowns in the red zone. The only time the Bucs need to trot Pat Murray on the field is to kick extra points and for kickoffs after that.
Whatever may be hidden in the playbook, needs to come out on Monday night. Koetter should be in the lab designing every trick play from flea flickers to surprise onside kicks. The Bucs will need points and lots of them, hope Matt Ryan has an off night and Julio Jones eats a bad deviled crab in the pregame meal to stand a chance.
Cook’s Score Prediction: Falcons win 40-34
Cook’s Pick to Click: WR Mike Evans
PewterReport.com Beat Writer Trevor Sikkema
When the NFL schedules come out each year, players, coaches, fans and anyone who either follows or is involved with a team has certain games they circle.
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this week’s Monday night matchup against the Atlanta Falcons was one that every single person who knows this team highlighted as an important one.
On the field, unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the hosting Tampa Bay team might be in for a long night. The Falcons, a team finally getting into their groove after going through a bit of a Super Bowl hangover to start the year, come into this prime time game 8-5 with control of their own destiny for the postseason – what ever team fighting for a playoff spot this late in the year dreams of.
The Bucs didn’t face Falcons starting running back Devonta Freeman a few week ago when they fell to their divisional opponent in Atlanta, but they will be seeing him for the first time on Monday, as he is back from a concussion. Along with now facing Freeman, the Bucs will also have to have a much better game plan against one of the best wide receiver in the game, a player who burned them for 253 receiving yards by himself last time they faced off, Julio Jones.
On Tampa side, with injuries to defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David, they key moments to this game, if it’s going to end in an upset victory for Tampa Bay, have to now come from a more unlikely sources. The Bucs might be leaning heavy on two of their rookie starters, safety Justin Evans and linebacker Kendell Beckwith, as they have all year. Will defensive coordinator Mike Smith hangs his coverage plans for Jones this time around? Will be see cornerback Brent Grimes shadow him all game?
Even if they do, with all the players the Bucs are missing, I think it will be too much. Falcons will roll this one unless we see an offense from quarterback Jameis Winston and this Bucs team we haven’t seen yet this year to overcome the defensive injuries and deficiencies.
Sikkema’s Score Prediction: Falcons win 34-24
Sikkema’s Click to Pick: QB Jameis Winston