Despite virus, Bucs should edge Falcons

by Gary Shelton on January 2, 2021

in general

Bowles'will be short two stars./TIM WIRT

Saturday, 4 a.m.

The Atlanta Falcons won't be the only opponent that the Tampa Bay Bucs face on Sunday. And whoever it may be there might be an extra one for their first playoff game next week.

The Bucs, suddenly, are riddled by the Covid-19 virus, making their challenge of obtaining the fifth seed in the upcoming post-season a little harder.

Both defensive stars Shaq Barrett and Devin White will miss Sunday's game because of Covid. So will nose tackle Steve McClendon. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to clear protocol by Sunday.

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White and Barrett are two of the biggest impact players for the Bucs' defense. White is fourth in the league with 140 tackles. Barrett is 23rd in sacks with eight.

That puts the pressure on Bowles, whose defense has shown leaks much of the season.

“We totally anticipate (Bowles) being back – hopefully tomorrow," said Bucs' coach Bruce Arians. "If not, Sunday for sure, we think. If not, Kacy [Rodgers] would call it. He’s done it before so he’s more than ready.”

Bowles charges can't say the same. Atlanta is only 4-9, but they have offensive weapons. Those weapons helped the Falcons to take a 17-0 lead on the Bucs earlier in the month.

“We missed two blitzes on third down that we’ve picked up all season," Arians said. "It was more technical error [and] technique than it was assignment. We fixed that in the second quarter and didn’t really have any problem with it again. They have a great blitz package, and when they bring it, they bring a lot of speed. Deion Jones, when he’s coming, that’s a really fast blitzer. They’ve got really good pass rushers, but we did not handle the blitz very well on a couple third downs.”

The Falcons are good enough to challenge the Bucs for most of the game, but the Bucs have taken care of business against lesser teams this season.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 21, Atlanta 20.

In other NFL games:

Buffalo 24, Miami 17.

Cleveland 27, Pittsburgh 24.

N.Y. Giants 30, Dallas 21.

Washington 27, Philadelphia 17.

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