A quick look at the news being generated by the other three teams in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' division:
Only half of the NFC South was in action this past weekend, and this time it was the Buccaneers who throttled an opponent while the Falcons had to pull out a squeaker to stay undefeated. Atlanta has a strong hold on the division lead at this point, at 6-0, but the Buccaneers are on the verge of returning to .500 and the Panthers and Saints should be healthier and rested coming out of their respective byes. Both the Falcons and the Saints are still trying to shore up run defenses that have been too porous this season, while the Panthers are working on getting their rushing offense untracked even as they lose their starting center for the rest of the season.
In Atlanta, Matt Ryan had an afternoon that probably disappointed his growing legion of fantasy football fans (one touchdown, three interceptions), but it was another encouraging outing for the fifth-year quarterback nonetheless. That's because, for the second straight week, he led a fourth-quarter scoring drive to complete a come-from-behind victory. This time it was a 40-second, 43-yard march that set up Matt Bryant's 55-yard field goal in a 23-20 win over huge underdog Oakland. Ryan has been praised for his icy demeanor in crunch time, and he said he's saying the same thing from his whole team. "I think there is a sense of calm among us," said Ryan after the game. "Obviously you don't want to be in those situations and you want to play better the first three or four quarters of the game and get it wrapped up, but that's the nature of the NFL. There are going to be a lot of games that are going to come down to what you do on the last drive of the football game, and we've been in these situations before. I think everybody is comfortable, confident and, in a certain way, settled." Not much is unsettled for the league's only undefeated squad, but the Falcons still rank 27th against the run on defense, giving up 143.8 yards per game. Oakland ran for 149 yards in a losing effort on Sunday at the Georgia Dome, in a game in which usual starting LB Stephen Nicholas was limited to special teams duty due to a lingering ankle injury. However, the Falcons get a rest this week, as they're the last in the division to get their bye, and that will give Nicholas time to heal. In addition, DT Corey Peters may be close to coming off the reserve/non-football injury list, though Smith said that could come next week or 21 days from now.
In Carolina, the Panthers got some bad news heading into their bye weekend, as it was learned that starting center Ryan Kalil's left foot injury is much worse than originally thought. Kalil joined the growing NFL ranks of Lisfranc injuries and has been placed on injured reserve, which will likely trigger a series of moves on the Panthers' front line. Starting right guard Geoff Hangartner is the leading candidate to replace Kalil, and the team will look at Jeff Byers and Garry Williams as potential candidates to replace Hangartner at guard. Of course, Hangartner had missed the Panthers' previous game due to a knee injury, but the bye week is expected to give him time to get back on the field in Week Seven against Dallas, and indeed he practiced on Monday. The extra time during the bye might also have been used to take a look at what is ailing the team's running game, which was expected to be a strength. QB Cam Newton is the team's leading rusher, with 209 yards, which is a testament to Newton's incredible ability but not a good sign for the three-headed backfield of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. Those three have combined for just 306 yards. "We obviously have a sense of urgency," said Tolbert. "The week off definitely helped us; I think it helped everybody. We're ready to get back to work. We know we're so much better than what we've been putting out there. This team is better than 1-4. We have to show it every day."
In New Orleans, the Saints were getting an extra week to prepare for their trip to Tampa, though they might have preferred to keep the momentum going from their first victory of the season. New Orleans downed San Diego, 31-24, in Week Five and then went into their bye, but acting Head Coach Aaron Kromer believes that won't be a problem. "We control momentum," said Kromer after what he termed a strong "bonus" practice for the Bucs on Monday. "We control momentum with the way we practice, the way we prepare and the way we play in the game. We know it’s a formidable opponent, we are at their place, and it’s a divisional rivalry. We need to play our best football to win on the road and we can do that." Indeed, the Saints' win over San Diego didn't change the fact that they rank last in the NFL in total defense and 30th in points allowed per game. New Orleans is about to face a team that ranks second in the NFL with seven pass plays of 40 or more yards, but Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo thinks the Saints' bigger problem is giving up big chunks of yardage on the ground. "We’ve had 172 run plays [and] 20 of them account for half of our yardage given up," said Spagnuolo on Monday. "We’ve given up 800-plus yards and half of that yardage has come on 20 plays. We talked about that this morning as a defense. We’re not that far off, and yet you can’t allow those explosive plays because they lead to bad things." The potential return of LB Jonathan Vilma from the PUP list this week could help the Saints in that regard, but neither Kromer nor Spagnuolo were too specific on Monday about the team's plans for the veteran defender. "Do we have some things to figure out?" said Spagnuolo. "Yes, but it’s a good problem to have. I’ve talked to Jonathan. I’ve talked to Curtis [Lofton]. I’ve talked to a bunch of the linebackers. Open conversation is always good. We have a bunch of team players and we’ll figure it out. It’s not figured out today, but it will be. I know one thing, it’s good to have a guy like Jonathan Vilma ready to go.