Encouraged by his club's latest injury report, Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris heads into the bye week confident that Tampa Bay is poised to make a strong playoff push in the next two months.
A 24-18 setback to the Bears in London on Sunday dropped Tampa Bay to 4-3, and the Bucs have extra time to prepare for a pivotal Nov. 6 matchup at New Orleans, hoping to sweep the Saints and forge a tie atop the NFC South.
"Not playing your best football in the first half and coming out of this thing at 4-3, you feel really good about it as a coach,'' Morris said Wednesday after the Bucs returned to the practice field. "It's kind of a sigh of relief. We don't feel good about the last loss, because you had a chance to win it, but I can't wait to attack the next half of this football season.''
Morris gave the Bucs the rest of the week off to heal before the next scheduled practice session Tuesday.
With veteran Earnest Graham out for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon, featured back LeGarrette Blount — sidelined the past two games because of an injury the Bucs have classified as a sprained left knee — is expected back for the matchup against the Saints.
"We lost 'Insurance' Graham, but we'll get Blount back after the bye,'' Morris said. "We've also moved up (rookie running back) Mossis Madu. I'm feeling really confident about Blount. He looked good last week, and he looked better today. He'll have another week of rest and he'll get a bunch of treatment and be ready to go downhill … here we go.''
Morris said he expects defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle) back for the New Orleans game, along with center Jeff Faine (biceps). He said center Jeremy Zuttah (knee), rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster (ankle) and safety Tanard Jackson (hamstring) may all be available to play at the Superdome.
"We'll get some help from the bye,'' Morris said. "We'll have some guys coming out of the cold tub ready to deal.''
Tampa Bay is 2-0 in the division, but as the only NFL club that has already played five home games, the Bucs will be on the road six times in the final nine weeks of the regular season.
Graham won't be back, but there's a chance the Bucs will be near full strength when they hit The Big Easy.
For guard Davin Joseph, the Week 8 bye comes at an optimal time.
"I think everybody needs a break right now,'' Joseph said. "If not physically, mentally. It's going to help us. We're seven games in and there's a lot of positives, along with some things we need to do better. We're in good shape. Sometimes, it takes getting slapped in the face to wake up. We've gotten slapped a couple of times, and that's OK. It's about how you respond and I think we've got the guys in the locker room to get it done.''
BUCS AT SAINTS
When: Nov. 6, 1 p.m.
TV: Fox, Channel 13