First & five: Bucs face tough test against Falcons


After Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the Washington Redskins on the road, a game that the Bucs led 24-0 at one point, All Pro linebacker Lavonte David told the Tampa Bay Times the following: “This is one of those losses you get a permanent scar from.”

Couldn’t have said it any better myself, Lavonte. If you lead a team 24-0 in the closing minutes of the first half, that’s a game that every team in the NFL should win. Yet, the Bucs blew it. Despite one of the best offensive performances statistics-wise in team history, Lovie Smith’s vaunted defense blew that lead and allowed an offense led by one of the league’s most average starting quarterbacks in Kirk Cousins to come back and win the game.

But enough about last Sunday. All of us, myself included, have had almost five days to vent about it. Now it’s time to shift the focus to this week’s opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. On Sunday, the boys in red and pewter will travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons, a place in which the team was absolutely clobbered on prime time last season, losing 56-14 to their divisional rivals.

That was to a Falcons team that eventually fired their coach en route to a 6-10 record and the eighth overall pick in this May’s NFL Draft. Fast forward to today, where Atlanta, under the leadership of new head coach Dan Quinn, has surged ahead to a 6-1 record. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been rejuvenated. Wide receiver Julio Jones continues to prove why he’s one of, if not the best, receiver in the NFL. And running back Devonta Freeman has exploded onto the scene as the league’s leading rusher. Not to mention a resurgent defense under Quinn’s leadership.

In order to stop a Falcons team that seems on a likely playoff path, the Bucs must pull out all the stops to even have a chance at winning. If they shoot themselves in the foot too much, like the 16 penalties last week at Washington, they will not win. Plain and simple.

Here is the rest of what you need to know going into game day this upcoming Sunday.

1. Fantasy Players To Watch: Buccaneers RB Doug Martin and Falcons WR Julio Jones

Against the Falcons’ fourth ranked rush defense, establishing the run will be paramount in order for rookie quarterback Jameis Winston to have any chance of success. Martin is coming off three straight 100 yard games. Something has to give, right?

Oct 11, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) runs during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Look for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to have a few tricks up his sleeve against his former team, and for a healthy dose of touches for Martin early and often. That can only help owners that have the fourth year back as one of their starters.

As for Jones, he’s ranked fifth among all NFL wide receivers in points according to CBS Sports. Even though cornerback Johnthan Banks has returned, look for the Falcons to move Jones around the field for favorable matchups against a suspect Bucs secondary. Over 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown certainly are not out of the question come Sunday.

2. College Football Player To Watch: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss (vs. Auburn, Saturday, 12 PM)

I know, I know: I’ve picked Ole Miss players two times in a row (offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil was the selection last week). However, there is a good reason for picking Treadwell this week: the future of the Bucs’ wide receiving corp moving forward.

Mike Evans is continuing his evolution into one of the league’s top receivers. His latest showing last week against Washington: eight receptions for 164 yards and a 40 yard scoring catch on the third play from scrimmage only cements that fact. However, veteran receivers Louis Murphy and Vincent Jackson both sustained knee injuries last week. Murphy is out for the season with a torn ACL, while Jackson will miss several weeks with an injury that has not yet been disclosed.

Jackson is 32, and only has two years left on his deal. Murphy just signed an extension a few months ago, and is 28. And even though the team took Evans with the seventh overall pick two years ago, it’s time to take another receiver that will grow with him and Winston to give Koetter weapons that will keep defensive coordinators late every night trying to contain them.

Treadwell is the draft’s top receiving prospect. He is one of college football’s most physically gifted specimens at 6’2″, 212 lbs. CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler compared him to Dallas’ Dez Bryant, who is one of the league’s most feared receivers along with Evans and Jones. Could you imagine Treadwell and Evans scorching opposing defenses with Winston slinging them the football? Talk about matchup nightmares galore. As long as he stays healthy, he’s a lock for the Top 15 in next May’s draft. Don’t be surprised if GM Jason Licht targets him with the Bucs’ first round pick.

3. Matchup to Watch: Martin vs Falcons’ Run Defense.

The revitalized Dougernaut versus the NFL’s fourth ranked rushing defense. Should be a lot of fun to watch on Sunday. I think that covers it.

Sep 13, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Austin Seferian-Jenkins (87) runs for a touchdown in the second half against the Tennessee Titans in the second half at Raymond James Stadium. The Titans defeated the Buccaneers 42-14. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

4. The return of the prodigal tight end.

Before straining his shoulder in the Week 2 win in New Orleans, sophomore tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was quickly becoming Winston’s security blanket. However, it has been clear that Winston has missed his presence. So with the season-ending loss of Murphy, and the loss of Jackson for multiple weeks, it was a welcome sight for Koetter, Winston and the rest of the offense when Seferian-Jenkins returned to practice this week.

Although his status for Sunday’s game is unknown, the tight end’s limited participation in Wednesday’s practice is a good sign. He might not be able to return this week, but if he can come back for the Week 9 matchup against the Giants at home, it would be a huge boost for an offense that is a little short on weapons at the moment.

5. Winston Watch: Looks like we have a franchise signal caller on our hands, folks.

Despite the crushing loss to Washington on Sunday, Winston had his best statistical game as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yet. In my Rapid Reaction from Sunday’s game, I talked about Winston’s progress in depth. To sum it up: I’m impressed more and more as each week passes.

The kid has all the talent to be one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks for years to come. He’s smart, tough, and a leader of men. He’s made for red and pewter. He’s a winner. If you had asked me a year ago if I wanted Jameis Winston to be the starting quarterback for our hometown Bucs, I would have said no. Now, I can’t imagine anyone better to lead this team back to the promised land than Famous Jameis. I’m excited to see what the rest of the season has in store for Koetter and his prized pupil.

Tweet of the Week

Bucs team insider Casey Phillips talked to some of the players to get their advice on Halloween, which is on Saturday. They had some… interesting answers, to say the least. Follow the link in the above tweet to give the video a watch. I’m sure that you will enjoy it.