Bucs suddenly go cold against the sizzling-hot Panthers.
Facing NFL’s hottest team, Bucs finally lose the turnover battle.
If you thought the Bucs were feeling good about themselves after winning two straight, you should see them now. Their victory against the Lions, which came despite the absence of S Dashon Goldson, MLB Mason Foster and CB Darrelle Revis for the critical second half, injected yet another good dose of confidence into this team. The Bucs are far from cocky, but the feeling in the locker room now is that they are capable of beating any team anywhere and that they don’t necessarily have to be at their best to do it. That’s important. The Bucs know they did not play a good game in a lot of areas last week, and that has humbled them a bit. It has reminded them that there is no substitution for hard work and precision, but the fact they found a way to win while not at their best has further solidified their belief that they’re better than their record indicates.
Questions with Bucs S Kelcie McCray
Q: What kind of quarterback were you in high school in Columbus, Ga.?
A: I was definitely a running quarterback. I think I had more rushing yards than passing yards. I had a horrible arm and there was no question I wasn’t going to be a quarterback by the time I got to Arkansas State. It wasn’t going to happen.
Q: You broke your foot toward the end of 2012 training camp with the Dolphins when you were trying to make the team. How did you avoid being discouraged during your rehab?
A: It was discouraging, but luckily I had shown a lot during the time I had been there, including rookie minicamp. I came in with a chip on my shoulder and I was doing really well. I felt I had already made an impression on the coaching staff.
Q: Are you surprised by the off-field issues the Dolphins have been facing, with the allegations of bullying?
A: I can’t say I saw it coming. I’m definitely surprised. They’ve got a pretty good team and it’s a good group of guys. I felt the locker room was pretty tight when I was there. I don’t wish that on nobody, especially my friends.
Q: Who is the one person throughout history that you would like to spend some time with?
A: That’s a tough one. I’d have to say Walter Payton. He was one of my idols growing up — the work ethic, the way he played the game. Also, Deion Sanders. I think it’s a tie. Deion had so much fun playing the game. With Payton, it was that drive he had. I remember as a kid watching those videos of him working out and him saying he goes until he throws up.
Q: If you were thinking about buying a house, what’s the first room you would check out?
A: Hard question. I’d have to say the kitchen. I’m a small guy, but I love good food. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It’s got to have enough space for me and my big family. And there had better be a nice big stove so we can cook a good meal during the holidays.
Bucs TE Tim Wright vs. Panthers LBs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis
Wright has become one of QB Mike Glennon’s most favorite targets. He has been targeted on 24 passes the past five games, second only to Vincent Jackson (40), and he has rewarded Glennon by making 19 catches, which is only three less than Jackson has in the same span. The usually dynamic play of the Panthers front seven will likely force Glennon to look to Wright a lot today, but Wright will have his hands full against Kuechly and Davis. That duo recently held Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez to a combined three catches over a two-game span and have firmly established themselves as two of the best coverage LBs in the game today. Davis is a bit better than Kuechly, but Kuechly has three interceptions so he can make a big play when he has to. Wright can to, as he has proven, but he’ll have run good routes, makes sharp cuts and win some battles for the ball to do make big plays today.
Keys to victory
KEEP CAM CONTAINED
The Bucs have done a good job of rushing the passer the past few weeks. DT Gerald McCoy has 16 QB pressures on his own the past two games and the Bucs as a whole have accrued 20 QB hits and seven sacks in their past three games. The problem the Bucs have had — and it was a big problem the last time they played the Panthers — is keeping the quarterback contained. They’re flushing quarterbacks out of the pocket all right, but far too often they’re letting them escape the pressure. The Bucs will need to do a better job of containing Newton today. They actually reached him for three sacks and seven hits in their first meeting but Newton still got the better of them, running 11 times for 50 yards and completing 23 of 32 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs have shown an improved ability to get to the quarterback, but they still need to do a better job of taking him down.
GET BACK IN THE GROOVE
After turning in three straight solid, if not spectacular, outings against Seattle, Miami and Atlanta, the Bucs offensive line turned in a bit of a clunker against the Lions at Detroit last week. The unit was outmuscled in the run game, where Bucs ball carriers gained just 39 yards on 20 carries, and beaten repeatedly in pass protection, where QB Mike Glennon was sacked four times and hit six times. That’s two more sacks and two more hits than the unit allowed on average in its previous three games and it has to get back to performing at that higher level. Though K Rian Lindell ultimately shouldered the blame, the play of the line was arguably the biggest reason the Bucs failed to cash in on the two late scoring chances that started at the Lions 11- and 37-yard line last week. Though they’re playing better, the Bucs still aren’t good enough to waste scoring chances like that, so they have to tighten up.
The Bucs special teams units might be coming off their worst game of the year. K Rian Lindell missed consecutive chances to pad a late three-point lead, the coverage units gave up a 42-yard punt return that allowed the Lions to start a drive at the Bucs 40 and PR Eric Page fielded a third-quarter punt at his 3, eventually returning it to 2 yards to the 5. Looking back, it’s a wonder the Bucs found a way to survive all those mistakes. They’re the kind of mistakes that surely would have crippled this team earlier in the year and the fact the Bucs are playing better now doesn’t mean they can afford to play sloppy. Lindell’s issues are no doubt correctible, but this was the third time in the last four games that the Bucs have given up a sizeable punt return and Page has made some other questionable decisions this year. In all these cases, simply playing smarter is likely the key to improvement.