Bucs hope to start climb out of the cellar

by Gary Shelton on October 27, 2017 · 2 comments

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Winston will enter Panthers game on a short week./JEFFREY S. KING

Winston will enter Panthers game on a short week./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 3 a.m.

For the Tampa Bay Bucs, trying to pull out of a three-game losing streak is as simple as a child's game.

It's called “follow the leader.”

The Bucs, 2-4 on the season, open their division play this weekend when they play host to the Carolina Panthers, a team they swept (winning by three points and by one point) a year ago. And, according to quarterback Jameis Winston, it is the team's leaders that give it a chance to right itself.

"That’s where I’ve got to give a great amount of credit to our head coach, Coach (Dirk) Koetter,” Winston said. “He does a

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McCoy's leadership hopes to help Bucs' turn it around./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

McCoy's leadership hopes to help Bucs' turn it around./JEFFREY S. KING

great job of leading us and making sure that we are together always. Then when you look at the leaders in our locker room, they are probably some of the best guys in the world. Then you look at the leaders on that defensive side — they’re even better guys.

"I’m talking in terms of Clinton McDonald and Gerald McCoy – two guys that are the most humble guys in the world and the (greatest) men that you will ever meet in your life. I can’t really talk about division from a team perspective because I don’t see it. I would do everything in my power to keep this team together. That’s one thing that I don’t think our head coach has any time for or the leaders, the captains within the locker room, we don’t have time for division right now. We’ve got to come together and we’ve got to keep chunking away because we know it’s a long season and it’s up to us to make this season positive.”

If Winston is to make an impact, he'll will do it — once again — with a shortened week. Winston didn't throw Thursday, although he is expected to today. Last week, the same routine resulted in a 384-yard passing day.

"Look at us last year,” Winston said. “We hit a run. What the fans say, obviously it means a lot to us, but at the end of the day it’s about this building right here. Right now, we’ve got to make ourselves feel better before we worry about making other people feel better. I guarantee you if we make ourselves feel better, everybody will feel better. We definitely don’t want to disappoint the fans. I believe we’ve been doing a good job at home with bringing them wins and stuff, but on the road we haven’t had a road win this year.

"Last year we did pretty great on the road, so we’ve got to change it around. Obviously, it’s something out there that we are looking for and the only thing that is is a win. I know how that is because I am a fan of a lot of teams. I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan too and they’re winning so I want to be on that side too. I know our fans appreciate us more with wins.”

"Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said that Winston performed well a week ago.

"I thought for the most part we protected well. I thought we had a really good game plan going in,” Monken said. “You always think you have a really good game plan, [but] you get into it and the opposing defense has a lot to do with that, with what they do. We were able to hit some explosive plays. We overcame one that we didn’t get to DeSean (Jackson) — which is a good sign, when you’re able to overcome that. I think he (Winston) did a really good job early in the week of mentally preparing to play. I think that showed once we got into the game.”

One of the things that Winston did last week was to introduce tight end O.J. Howard, who had his best game as a pro. Howard caught six passes for 98 yards in the loss to Buffalo.

"I think he’s improved as a route runner and he wasn’t a bad route runner before,” Koetter said. “Sometimes a guy just doesn’t get very many opportunities in a game. Back to what I said on the last one, O.J. might have been targeted on plays like we ran the other day but they covered him different so Jameis threw the ball somewhere else. On O.J.’s two touchdowns last week, they were in the perfect defense for the play that we called and the number one guy popped wide open. It’s rare on either of those plays that they will be that wide open.

"I told O.J. right after the long one that he’s never going to be that wide open again. You’re never going to catch a ball that wide open. Two of O.J.’s seam passes were a little bit different play-action look than we’ve showed before. We’ve run that play before, but we haven’t run it this year and we hit it twice last week. I think O.J. is getting more confidence in his route running just because in the NFL those guys who are covering you are better. You’re not just going to run by them with pure athleticism.”

Said Monken: “I think each day that he practices, the way that he has been practicing each week, he’s continuing to taking steps — as is Cameron Brate, as [are] all of our players. You can always find something to continue to improve on. It just happened the ball came his way. He does not control that. He controls how he plays and how he continues to improve. Sometimes with tight ends or throwing it to the running backs, unless that’s who you are — and we happen to have Cam – you’re going to have up and down weeks with his production, but maybe not in terms of his grade, in terms of how he plays. His grade may be the same, it just turns out where the ball happened to find him.”

The Bucs have their hands full this week with former MVP Cam Newton and the return of linebacker Luke Kuechly.

One of the observations about the Bucs so far is that they don't know how to win yet. Asked what it takes to learn that, Koetter had a simple response:

"Unfortunately, winning,” he said. “That’s true. It’s just what it is. Winning begets winning and losing begets losing. It’s just a part of the sport. As long as I’ve been around it, that’s held true. You’ve got to get over that hump and then it seems like more breaks go your way. Whether you’re calling them breaks or whether you’re calling it getting out-played or whether you’re calling it doing things that beat yourself — there are many people out there who believe more games are lost than won. Teams that don’t beat themselves — the Patriots have probably been the best example of that over the last 10 years or so, rarely beat themselves and win a lot of games.”

The Bucs again hope to start faster. During their recent games, they have taken a while to get going.

"It feels that way, but I don’t know why,” Monken said. “I don’t know if that’s the sense of urgency in the game. It doesn’t feel like we’re grading any differently. It’s not as if we’re sitting there going, ‘Okay wow, we graded out so poorly in the first half this week.’ No, it feels the same. It’s just for some reason we’ve been able to kind of get it going and I do believe that offense is rhythm. Sometimes you get in a rhythm and there is a belief. Just like on defense, you’re stopping them (and) there is a belief you’re going to stop them. There is a belief you’re going to score, so I do think that that’s a big part of it. All of the sudden you get rolling, the defense plays better, they’re getting off the field — there is something to that.

"But to know exactly why – I don’t know. This week we took the ball. They deferred, but we were going to take it. We wanted to see if we could get another possession in the first half and get started faster being on the road and I thought we did that. We took it all the way down the field and we just were a little off on that throw to Cam (Brate) that would’ve gotten us a touchdown. I think everybody says the exact same things, ‘Start fast.’ Okay, I’m with you. We all want that and we’re doing different things to try and be able to do that but we’ve just got to do it better earlier in the game with a little bit of sense of urgency to give us those same opportunities, to get ahead, to help our defense to where we are playing from ahead and it forces their coordinator to make calls from behind. That’s a big part of it too — playing from ahead (and) their players having to make plays. You could feel it different in the Buffalo game, as opposed to earlier in the game. It felt like the momentum had switched. We were getting off the field. We were moving the football and you could feel that even on the road.”

The Bucs-Panthers game begins at 1 p.m.

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