Bucs have to control Kamara to win

by Gary Shelton on October 28, 2021

in general

Devin White brings Kamara down./STEVEN MUNCIE

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Here's the thing about the defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs. You never worry about an opposing running back. You always worry about the quarterback.

Until this week.

What's wrong with this picture? Since Todd Bowles arrived as the Bucs' defensive coordinator, the opposing running game has never been a problem. The Bucs traditionally rank near the top of fewest running yards allowed.









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Quarterbacks? That's a different deal. Quarterbacks light up like Christmas trees against the Bucs, especially now that they're limping. Only six teams have given up more yards then the Bucs' pass defense.

But now comes the versatile Alvin Kamara, and all bets are off. So far, Kamara has been in the center of a Saints' offense, rushing for 419 yards and catching passes for 241. After last week, when Khalil Herbert ran for 100 yards against the Bucs, it's a concern.

"He's a handful as a runner and a receiver," said Bucs' coach Bruce Arians. "But more so as a receiver because he is a mismatch on everybody."

On the ground, Kamara has rushed for 385 yards in his eight games against the Bucs. Not bad. But he's caught 52 passes -- more than six a game -- for another 485 yards.

Karama is this week's NFC Offensive Player of the Week after gaining 179 total yards against Seattle.

“Kamara – knowing him the last four years – he is one of the best backs in the league with his balance, his speed [and] how he breaks tackles," said safety Jordan Whitehead. "He doesn’t go down easily, so you’re going to have to bring everything coming against him. You know the Saints are going to run the ball. [They have a] great offensive line – [they are] strong and physical, with Taysom Hill coming in too, so it’s going to be a good matchup.”

Said teammate Jason Pierre-Paul: "He’s one of the best running backs that we’re going to face probably this year. Like I said, I don’t really too much worry about other people’s games. I just worry about my game and when it comes to Sunday, we just want to hunt. That’s basically it.”

Ah, but out of the backfield, Kamara has one game with nine catches against the Bucs and another one with 10. For all the talk about Jameis Winston, his top target has been Kamara.

The retirement of Drew Brees, and the scattergun resume of Jameis Winston, have forced the Saints to go to a more conservative attack. It's one reason that Winston has been good more often than not.

"He's probably throwing it 15 times less a game," Arians points out. "They're playing with a lead, and we didn't have that many leads that [season], so we had to throw it. So, yeah, he's playing very, very well at the position."

A solid defense has led the Saints, too. For instance, they won over Seattle with just 13 points.

"This is by far the best 11 that we've faced this year," Arians said of the defense. "The front seven – Demario Davis is one of the best there is, the same with Cam Jordan. So, this is a big physical defense with a great secondary. Yeah, the defense stands out. Their special teams are outstanding and they're a challenge. Offensively, [Marquez] Callaway…it all starts with 41 (Alvin Kamara). You've got to stop 41. If Alvin's running around, we've got problems."

For the Bucs, it's that simple. Control the run on the early downs, and Winston is trying to make harder throws. If Kamara gets going, however, it will be easier for Winston.

The teams play at the Louisiana Superdome at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday.

Lightning finally has the look of a winner

by Gary Shelton on October 27, 2021

in general

Vasilevskiy was close to a shutout./JEFFERY S. KING

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

There was something familiar about them, something that you might swear you had seen before. Maybe it was in the way they carried themselves. Maybe it was in the way they didn't back up.

The kid in goal? You've seen a guy play like that, like King Kong swatting away airplanes.

The defense turning into snipers? That was straight out of the memory banks, too. Right?









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And the two goals in 10 seconds. You've seen that kind of juice before, haven't you?

Yeah, finally, you can call off the search party. The Tampa Bay Lightning has been found.

The Lightning, off to a sluggish start, finally looked like a champion on Tuesday night in a 5-1 victory over Pittsburgh. The Bolts had only won twice -- both on comebacks and both finished off in overtime -- this season.

Tuesday night was different, however. The Bolts had a different energy. Granted, the Penguins were playing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they were without both when they mashed the Bolts on opening night, 6-2.

This time, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was sharp in goal, missing a shutout only when Pittsburgh scored with 2:17 left on a power play goal. Except for that, Vasilevskiy stopped 28 of 29 goals.

:There was a lot of talk about backs to backs and how hard they are," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Sometimes you need a back to back. They did."

Brayden Point gave the Lightning their first lead of the season when he scored 31 seconds into the second period. Later in the period, Ondrej Palat and Ryan McDonagh scored in a 10-second span to give the Bolts a 3-0 lead.

Mikhail Sergachev and Alex Killorn both scored empty netters at the end.

The Bolts next play at home at Amalie Arena against winless Arizona on Thursday night. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m.


Still no final verdict on Winston

by Gary Shelton on October 27, 2021

in general

Good? Bad? Sometimes, Winston is both./STEVEN MUNCIE

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

He has been terrific. He threw five touchdown passes is an upset of Green Bay. He threw four in a victory over Washington.

And he has been lousy. He had a dismal 26.2 rating in a loss to Carolina. He somehow lost to the New York Giants.

Amd the New Orleans Saints, like the Bucs before them, are still trying to figure out just what they have in quarterback Jameis Winston.









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He is a live grenade, Winston can hurt the opposing team, and he can hurt his own. He has a million-dollar arm, and at times, he has two cents worth of decision making. In a lot of ways, he's still the guy who threw 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his last year in Tampa Bay.

He was a tease while he was here, a player who could inspire and infuriate. He was Jeckyll. He was Hyde. He was Touchdown. He was turnover. In hindsight, whatever you think of him, good or bad, you were correct.

And now, Winston awaits the Bucs.

And what will they get?

Give the New Orleans Saints credit for this much. They seem to be doing a splendid job of limiting how much they depend on Winston. They are last in the NFL in pass attempts per game -- preferring to rely on running back Alvin Kamara and a solid defense.

For the most part, Winston has taken care of the ball. He has 13 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. His 102.4 rating is 10 points higher than in any previous season.

So here's the question: Can Winston beat the Bucs Sunday? Certainly he can. He has a big-enough arm, and he's home, and he's playing for a good coach in Sean Payton.

But here's the other question. Can Winston beat the Saints? Of course he can. He is capable of a huge misplay, and a wild throw, and a sideline tantrum.

And that's the Winston we all remember. He's a coin-flip. He's boom. He's bust. He's part-sharpshooter, part scattergun.

One or the other.

Bolts ‘lack urgency’ in loss to Sabres

by Gary Shelton on October 26, 2021

in general

Killorn scored the Bolts' only goal./CHUCK MULLER

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

For a decade, the Buffalo Sabres have been a dead franchise. Doing nothing. Going nowhere.

For two years, the Tampa Bay Lightning has been excellent. Two titles. Lots of confetti.

So how do you explain the latest misstep by the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team going in the wrong direction in the NHL's early season.









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The Lightning lost again Monday night, getting drubbed by a rebuilding Sabres team in a 5-1 game. The Bolts have won only twice in six games, and in four of them, they've scored two goals or fewer.

Buffalo had lost to Tampa Bay for seven straight games.

"It’s basics," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "You have the puck that much.... we had 35 shots, but we should have had 50. We gave them up. You have to be hungry around the net. Our urgency just was’t there. You’ve got to be ready to shoot at all times."

Alex Killorn tied the game at 1-1 in the first period, but turnovers haunted the Bolts.

"Anytime you see two unassisted goals, you probably did something where you gave it to them," Cooper said, "and we did on the second amd third goal,"

The Bolts started backup goalie Brian Elliott in net, who gave up three goals. Two were empty-netters. 

The Bolts, who still have not had a lead in regulation this season, now travel to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins. Pittsburgh beat the Bolts 6-2 earlier this season.

Looking back on the Bucs’ win over Chicago

October 26, 2021 general

Tuesday, 3 a.m. 5 Thoughts It’s silly to argue what a fan might have gotten for the football from Tom Brady’s 600th touchdown pass, but a lot of us would be willing to bid for a replica of that cap Brady gave to the cancer survivor. That was his best moment of the day. 2. […]

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Bucs win big, but without being sharp

October 25, 2021 general

Monday, 4 p.m. Now here’s a sight you don’t often see: Tom Brady, passenger. Tom Brady, backup singer. Tom Brady, tagalong. Oh, Brady had four touchdowns Sunday. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 600 touchdowns. But for the most part, Brady was a background player in the Bucs’ 38-3 walloping […]

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Bolts slump continues in shootout loss

October 24, 2021 general

Sunday, 4 a.m. So far, the electricity has been grounded. So far, there is no voltage to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts’ season-opening slump continued Saturday night in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Though five games, the Bolts have five points. However, they have yet to hold a lead in regulation, […]

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USF’s Scott finally gets a big victory

October 24, 2021 general

Oh. So that’s what they mean by running with the Bulls. USF stampeded over Temple Saturday night, rolling up a school-record 421 yards\s rushing in a 34-14 victory. It was the first win over an FBS opponent in the tenure of coach Jeff Scott. USF had not beaten a FBS opponent for 728 days. Jaran […]

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Bucs’ offense has room to improve

October 22, 2021 general

Friday, 4 a.m. You know the names. You’ve seen the highlights. You are aware of the way the resumes read. But after six weeks, the question lingers: Do the Tampa Bay Bucs have a great offense. The answer, of course, is this: Some of the time. Some of the time, they catch fire, and receivers […]

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Bucs’ running game is finally clicking

October 21, 2021 general

Thursday, 4 a.m. Once, it was the league of the runaway running back. Football is a game built on legs, on the great runners who have stampeded across the field. Once, there was Walter Payton and Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. There was Eric Dickerson and O.J. Simpson and Marcus Allen. Larry Csonka and John […]

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