After a 'mini-bye' that offered some useful rest and recuperation time, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will put their three-game winning streak on the line against an opponent that has had their number in recent seasons.
Khalil Mack, Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears will head to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday to take on the defending Super Bowl champions in a clash of former NFC Central foes. Chicago will certainly not be intimidated by the Buccaneers' new Lombardi Trophy; they were one of just four teams to beat Tampa Bay in 2020. That game, a 20-19 decision in prime time at Soldier Field in Week Five, showed how a lethal pass rush can disrupt even the most high-flying offenses.
The Buccaneers have certainly been soaring on offense in 2021, scoring at least 28 points in four of their six outings so far and averaging more than 400 yards per game. Tom Brady leads the NFL with 2,064 yards and his 17 touchdown passes are just one behind Patrick Mahomes for the league high six weeks into the season. More importantly, as it relates to recent Bucs-Bears clashes, Brady is in far greater command of Bruce Arians' offense now than he was a year ago, when he was still learning the system on the fly. Tampa Bay's offense has remained mostly healthy so far, most notably along on offensive line that hasn't needed a substitute yet, and could also be getting tight end Rob Gronkowski back from a three-week absence due to cracked ribs.
However, Mack leads yet another stingy Bears defense that is tied for the NFL lead in sacks; he and fellow edge rusher Robert Quinn have already combined for 11.5 QB takedowns. Chicago's defensive rankings of seventh in yards allowed and eighth in points allowed is even more impressive given that the Bears have faced a tough early schedule against such top-notch offenses as the Rams, Browns, Raiders and Packers. Chicago is coming off a 24-14 home loss to their personal tormentors, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but they were certainly not bulldozed by Rodgers and company. Green Bay finished with 323 total yards and Rodgers was held to 195 yards and was sacked three times.
Last Sunday's game offered the Bears a chance to catch Green Bay at the top of the NFC North, but the loss instead put them two games back and even overall at 3-3. That is still tied for the seventh-best record in the conference, which will have seven playoff teams when it's all said and done, and the Bears figure to remain contenders the rest of the way thanks to their star-studded defense.
However, how far they go overall – and how well they do this weekend against the reigning champs – may be determined by how much progress Fields makes in his rookie campaign. Four years after taking Mitchell Trubisky second overall, the Bears swung big again this past spring by trading up to get the athletic Ohio State star with the 11th pick. Chicago's history of struggles finding a franchise quarterback is very well documented but Fields has a chance to take the team in an exciting new direction. Making that pursuit a bit tougher in the early going is an offensive line that has had difficulty keeping defenses from pressuring, and frequently sacking, the young quarterback.
The Buccaneers have a chance to improve their 2021 record at home to 4-0, an important goal given that they won't play another game on their own turf for almost a month afterward. Having survived a gauntlet of three prime time games in the first six weeks, including two on the road, the Bucs now enter a stretch of three straight Sunday afternoon contests sandwiched around their midseason bye week. It's a little stretch of near-normalcy for the team before another run of two night games in five weeks follows. Of course, none of that will be on the minds of the players and coaches, who have successfully managed to focus intently on the task at hand. And this week, that's a formidable task against a team that has proved it can make any game a long afternoon for the Buccaneers.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Chicago Bears (3-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1)
Sunday, October 24, 4:25 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618)
Television: CBS (Local WTSP Channel 10)
TV Broadcast Team: Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (analyst), Tracy Wolfson (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Buccaneers and Bears don't share the 'Black and Blue Division' anymore, but that hasn't stopped them from getting together on a nearly annual basis, at least over the last eight years. When the two teams square off Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, it will mark the seventh game in the head-to-head series since 2014. The only season in that span that did not feature a Chicago-Tampa Bay reunion was 2019.
Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, this particular series has not treated them well over the last decade. Chicago has won five of the last seven, although two of the three games held in Tampa during that span went the home team's way. The last meeting was a Week Five Thursday Night affair at Soldier Field that the Bears took, 20-19, the first one-point decision in the series since 1991.
The Buccaneers have played the Bears 60 times, their most against any opponent, but not because of their recent run of matchups. Rather, the majority of those games took place while both teams were in the old NFC Central for 25 years, from 1977-2001. Chicago owns a clean 40-20 edge in the series.
That lopsided series lead is mostly the result of the Bears' might in the 1980s coinciding with a rough stretch for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay finally reversed its fortunes in 1997 and since that season the two teams have split 22 games down the middle. Since Tampa Bay left the Bears' division, which was then rebranded the NFC North, in 2002, Chicago has a 7-5 edge in the series.
The last two games were both Bears wins in Chicago, including the 2020 decision mentioned above in which Cairo Santos hit a game-winning 38-yard field goal with 1:13 left in regulation. The 2018 game in Chicago, in contrast, ranks as one of the most lopsided finals in the series, a 48-10 victory in Chicago in 2018. In fact, that 38-point winning margin stands as the best ever for Chicago against the Buccaneers, though a 41-0 blanking by Tampa Bay at home in 2000 holds the top spot overall. Mitch Trubisky, now a backup in Buffalo, threw for 354 yards and six touchdowns in that dreary (for the Buccaneers) contest.
Interestingly, four of the Buccaneers' 10 playoff seasons have ended with a win over Chicago in the regular-season finale. The first was in 1982, when the Bucs won their last three in a strike-shortened season to sneak into the expanded playoff field, the last of which was a 26-23 overtime decision against the Bears in Tampa. The Bucs rallied from a 23-6 halftime deficit with two Jimmie Giles touchdown catches and two Bill Capece field goals, the second one from 33 yards in overtime.
During their stretch of five playoff berths in six seasons from 1997-2002, the Buccaneers won in Week 17 at home against the Bears in 1997 and in Illinois in 1999 and 2002. All three were comfortable victories. In 1997, then-rookie Warrick Dunn ran wild and picks by Donnie Abraham and Melvin Johnson keyed a stifling defensive effort in a 31-15 decision. In 1999 in Chicago, the Buccaneers won their first division title in 18 years when the Mike Alstott and Dave Moore scored touchdowns and Abraham had another pick. That game was unfortunately the last one of Paul Gruber's career as he suffered a broken leg and retired after the season. In 2002, the Buccaneers were able to clinch a first-round bye when they shut out the Bears, 15-0, in a game played at the University of Illinois in Champaign. All 15 points came on Martin Gramatica field goals on an evening in which the wind was screaming in one direction. Derrick Brooks had a key interception.
Tampa Bay's most recent win in the series was in 2017. That game was supposed to be the Bucs' home opener in Week Two but Hurricane Irma forced the Tampa Bay-Miami game in Week One to be moved to later in the season. After an impromptu Week One bye, the Buccaneers made their 2017 debut against Chicago, facing off against their former quarterback, Mike Glennon. Kwon Alexander had an interception and Mike Evans scored a touchdown among his seven catches for 93 yards, helping the Bucs win easily, 29-7.
- Buccaneers Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin was an assistant offensive line coach for the Bears from 2004-06 on Lovie Smith's staff. Prior to that, Tampa Bay Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong held the same position for the Bears from 1997-2000, working under Head Coaches Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron.
- Buccaneers Specialists Coach Chris Boniol was a kicker in the NFL for six seasons (1994-99), the last of which was with the Chicago Bears. Inside Linebackers Coach Mike Caldwell is also a former Bears player, having played linebacker in Chicago in 2002 as part of an 11-year NFL career.
- Chicago's current placekicker, Cairo Santos, handled that job for the Buccaneers for the last seven games of the 2018 season. He made nine of his 12 field goal attempts and all 17 of his extra point tries for Tampa.
- Chicago wide receiver Breshad Perriman spent the 2019 season with the Buccaneers, catching 36 passes for 645 yards and six touchdowns.
- Bears Assistant Offensive Line Coach Donovan Raiola also played in the NFL, first signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2006. Over the next six years he also spent time with the Steelers, Seahawks, Bears, Buccaneers and Washington. It was with Tampa Bay in 2010 that Raiola saw action in the lone regular-season game of his career.
- Chris Jackson, Chicago's assistant wide receivers coach, signed with the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 1998.
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
- Head Coach Bruce Arians
- Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
- Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
- Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
- Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
- Head Coach Matt Nagy
- Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor
- Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai
- Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor
KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS
- S Andrew Adams (FA)
- RB Giovani Bernard(FA)
- LB K.J. Britt (fifth-round draft pick)
- WR Jaelon Darden(fourth-round draft pick)
- CB Pierre Desir (FA)
- CB Dee Delaney (FA)
- OL Robert Hainsey (third-round draft pick)
- CB Richard Sherman(FA)
- QB Kyle Trask (second-round draft pick)
- OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (first-round draft pick)
- LB Jeremiah Attaochu (UFA)*
- DL Angelo Blackson (UFA)
- WR Damiere Byrd (FA)
- QB Andy Dalton (UFA)
- QB Justin Fields (1st-round draft pick)
- WR Jakeem Grant (T-MIA)
- WR Marquise Goodwin (FA)
- RB Khalil Herbert (6th-round draft pick)
- TE Jesse James (FA)
- T Teven Jenkins (1st-round draft pick)*
- LB Christian Jones (FA)
- WR Breshad Perriman (FA)
- T Jason Peters (FA)
- T Elijah Wilkinson (UFA)
- RB Damien Williams (FA)
(* currently on injured reserve)
ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE
- While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
- Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
- After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
- The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
- Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown is not a new addition to the team in 2021 but he will have a chance to make a greater impact this season. Brown joined the Buccaneers at midseason last year and played in the last eight games of the regular season, recording 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He also appeared in three postseason contests and memorably scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. This time Brown will be an integral part of the offense from Day One, and he'll be moving more freely after having knee surgery in the offseason. From 2013-18, Brown averaged approximately 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns per season.
- After two seasons as Chicago's defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano – great friend and former colleague of Bruce Arians – elected to retire in January, saying, "This has been an amazing ride and I have made countless relationships that I will cherish forever." The Bears filled that opening by promoting Sean Desai, who has spent the previous nine seasons on the team's defensive staff, the last two coaching safeties.
- Head Coach Matt Nagy borrowed from a division rival to help him run the Bears' defense in 2021. After his three-year run as the Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator came to an end in 2020, Mike Pettine moved a bit south to join Nagy's staff as a senior defensive assistant. Pettine's NFL experience prior to his time with the Packers included defensive coordinator stints with the Bills and Jets and a two-year run (2014-15) as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Nagy also added former University of Texas Head Coach Tom Herman to his staff as an offensive analyst designated to work on special projects.
- The Bears made a number of other additions to the coaching staff on the defensive side of the ball, hiring Bill McGovern as inside linebackers coach, Chris Rumph as defensive line coach and long-time NFL safety Mike Adams as assistant defensive backs coach. Also, Bill Shuey saw his title change from pass-rush analyst to outside linebackers coach.
- Like the last team the Buccaneers faced in Philadelphia, Chicago almost completely overhauled its quarterback room heading into 2021. First, incumbent starter Mitchell Trubisky, the second-overall pick in the 2017 draft, was allowed to hit free agency and he departed for a backup job in Buffalo. As noted above, the Bears then signed Andy Dalton from the Cowboys to join the one remaining veteran in the room, Nick Foles. On the first night of the draft, the Bears got aggressive, trading their 2022 first-round pick and a couple other later selections to the Giants to move up nine spots and grab Ohio State star Justin Fields.
Parade of Young Passers Continues – For the Buccaneers' defense, the 2021 season began with a run of challenges from prolific, established veteran quarterbacks: Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford. That portion of the schedule is definitely over now, or at least on hold. The Bucs faced Mac Jones, the 15th-overall pick in this year's draft in New England in Week Four. They squared off against Jalen Hurts, a 2020 second-round pick making his 10th career start, in Philadelphia in Week Six. They missed an injured Tua Tagovailoa against Miami in Week Five but now draw another one of this year's rookie starters, Chicago's Justin Fields, who was taken four spots before Jones. Unlike Hurts and Jones, Fields didn't open the 2021 campaign as his team's starter, but a knee injury suffered by Andy Dalton in Week Two pushed Fields to the top of the depth chart. Even after a memorably rough first start against Cleveland in Week Three, Fields has held onto the job since, with a mixed bag of results. Chicago's passing attack ranks last in the NFL, so there are no gaudy numbers on Fields' resume yet, but like Hurts he also brings an added dimension to the offense with his ability to make plays with his legs. Chicago's play-callers haven't yet emphasized that part of his game but he did take it upon himself last Sunday against Green Bay to scramble for 43 yards. Fields has a big arm and should eventually start hitting some long plays downfield, though those have mostly been lacking for Chicago so far. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's secondary continues to be shaken and rearranged by injuries, which makes in-game communication a week-to-week challenge. That can be a particularly important issue when facing a mobile quarterback.
The Hunt for 6-1 – The Buccaneers came out of the first third of the 2021 season (with 17 games and a bye, this year's schedule is 18 weeks long) with a very encouraging 5-1 record as they seek to back up their Super Bowl LV victory with another run at the Lombardi Trophy. The problem is, the other emerging contenders in the NFC keep winning as well. Arizona (6-0), the L.A. Rams (5-1), Dallas (5-1) and Green Bay (5-1) all were victorious on Sunday in Week Six, with the Bucs watching after starting the week with a Thursday win in Philadelphia. The conference looks as if it will remain top-heavy the rest of the way. As for the current standings, it looks like the Buccaneers will have to work hard to hold serve in Week Seven. The Cowboys get the week off but the Cardinals, Rams and Packers should all be heavy favorites in home games against Houston, Detroit and Washington, respectively. Even with all of those five-win or better records, the Buccaneers are still in a good spot – albeit with a long way to go – in the playoff race. Since 1990, 84.3% of teams that started 5-1 went on to make the playoffs and 61.1% won their divisions. However, 6-1 would be even more encouraging; teams with that record to start a season have made the playoffs 87.0% of the time and won their divisions 71.0% of the time. But there's more to it than playoff odds for the Buccaneers as they seek their sixth win, as such an occurrence would represent a first in franchise history. While Tampa Bay had four previous seasons with 5-1 starts before 2021, none of those four teams could make it to 6-1. The 1979 team opened with five straight wins, lost two in a row and went on to win the division at 10-6. The 1997 Bucs also won their first five before dropping the next three and eventually getting a Wild Card berth at 10-6. The 2002 team, which went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII, lost the opener, won five straight and then lost their seventh outing. And the 2005 team won four, lost one, won another to get to 5-1 and then dropped the next two. That squad still went on to win the division. Obviously, the 2021 Buccaneers have loftier goals than a 6-1 start or even a playoff berth, but it would still be a noteworthy moment for the franchise to get that sixth win.
Forces Both Stoppable and Unstoppable Meet Objects both Movable and Immovable – Scroll down to the section below listing NFL rankings for the Bucs and Bears in a variety of offensive and defensive statistical categories, and a couple numbers are likely to stand out. First, Chicago has the NFL's most ferocious pass rush, leading the NFL in sacks per pass play (11.48%) and tying Minnesota for the most sacks overall (21). Khalil Mack (more on him below) and Robert Quinn form the NFL's scariest edge rush duos and the Bears have also been successful with a variety of blitzes. However, Tampa Bay's blockers have done a very good job of protecting Tom Brady (and Brady's reliance on quick-release passes has helped, too), ranking fourth in the NFL with a sacks allowed per pass rate of just 1.11%. Given that Chicago's 32nd-ranked offense isn't a sure bet to match up with Brady and company in a shootout, Chicago's QB hunters will be trying to keep the Bucs' off the scoreboard by getting to Brady as often as possible. From a unit-vs.-unit standpoint, that is surely the key matchup of the entire contest. When Chicago's offense is on the field, the story is roughly the opposite. The Bears have done a very poor job protecting their quarterbacks, ranking dead last in the NFL with a sacks allowed per pass rate of 14.77%. Justin Fields has been sacked 18 times in four starts. The question is, can Tampa Bay's defensive front take advantage. On paper, it would seem so, as the Bucs' defense still has every player who contributed to last year's 48 sacks (which tied for fourth in the league) plus first-round addition Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. However, the results haven't been quite as good as expected so far, as the Buccaneers' defense ranks just 27th in sacks per pass play at 4.78%. Shaquil Barrett and company would like to see those numbers come up sharply in Week Seven.
Take Down the Flags – After the Buccaneers climbed to the NFL's mountaintop in 2020, winning Super Bowl LV over Kansas City, they identified several games during the season that proved to be turning points. One was the first meeting with the Chiefs in November, which ended in a loss but a strong comeback as the Brady-led offense finally kicked into high gear. Before that, though, was the one-point Week Five loss in Chicago that led to a very unhappy plane flight back to Tampa. The Bucs finished that game with a 339-243 edge in total yardage but repeatedly clipped their own efforts with 11 penalties for 109 yards. Fed up by this self-sabotage, the Buccaneers vowed to do whatever was possible to clean up their game – and promptly committed the fewest penalties in the NFL over the next 12 weeks. Surprisingly, however, the penalty problem has reared its ugly head for the Buccaneers again and they are eager to avoid a repeat of last year's game against the Bears. Last Thursday, for instance, pass interference penalties of 50 and 45 yards led directly to two Eagles touchdowns and turned what could have been a blowout into a bit of a nail-biter. Overall, the Bucs have had 50 flags thrown against them for 47 accepted penalties costing 471 yards. Those 47 penalties are tied for the most in the NFL while the 471 yards are at the very top – or perhaps more accurately, the bottom – of that list. Tampa Bay's 2021 offense can at times look unstoppable, but one of the things that has occasionally stopped it, and led to aggravating lulls that last a quarter or so, are early-drive penalties that create bad down-and-distance situations. Last year's Bears game shined a spotlight on the Bucs' yellow flag problem; hopefully this year's Bears game will be the beginning of the solution.
Who's Up Next in the Secondary? – The Buccaneers are testing boundaries of the 'Next Man Up' approach, because even the next men up are becoming the next men down at this point. Tampa Bay hasn't had any worse injury misfortunate than most teams in the league so far this season, but their mishaps have been largely concentrated in the secondary. Starting cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting are on injured reserve for a still-undetermined amount of time and cornerback Jamel Dean missed a game with a knee injury of his own. Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. has missed the last two contests due to a concussion but is likely to return this week. The Bucs began last week's game in Philadelphia with Dean and the recently-signed Richard Sherman as their starting corners, but Sherman then went down six plays in with a hamstring ailment. The Bucs then turned to the relatively untested Dee Delaney, with another recently-signed veteran, Pierre Desir, playing in dime packages. Ross Cockrell, who was supposed to serve as a supersub after being cross-trained at safety in training camp, has become the full-time nickel back. Dean, who had a strong game in his return from injury last Thursday in Philly, should continue to take one of the outside starting corner spots moving forward but the Bucs could turn to either Desir or Delaney while Sherman is out. The Buccaneers' secondary did a good job of limiting the Eagles' Jalen Hurts in Week Six, with Dean's interception and four passes defensed leading the way, but will remain something of a question mark each week until and unless some of its injured members make it back to the field.
1. Bears WR Darnell Mooney vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean
Allen Robinson may be the Bears' most talented receiver, and their leading pass-catcher each of the past three seasons, but it is Mooney, a 2020 fifth-round draft pick, who has been the most targeted player in Chicago's passing attack. In the four starts made by rookie quarterback Josh Fields, Mooney has 24 targets and 14 catches for 214 yards, compared to 21 for 13 and 185 for Robinson. Mooney leads the team in receptions and yards through six games, and his 12.2 yards per catch, while not a particularly eye-opening average, is also the best by any Chicago pass-catcher. Mooney isn't big for an NFL receiver at 5-11 and 174 pounds but he has top-level speed and he is able to quickly gain separation from defenders. Last year, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, he achieved an average separation of 3.2 yards on his routes, which matched the figures put up by Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams. Playing with a quarterback whose signature strength at Ohio State was accuracy on deep balls, Mooney is a real deep threat even if the Bears' passing attack really hasn't unlocked that part of it's game yet. Mooney is the only player on the team with a catch of 30 or more yards this year. He has seen plenty of snaps both wide and in the slot this year and on both sides; when he's split wide to the offense's left he'll most likely encounter Dean, who most commonly plays outside on that side of the field. Dean, who can match Mooney's speed and might have an advantage over the smaller receiver with his physical style of play, is coming off one of his best games in some time. In addition to getting the Bucs' lone takeaway in Philadelphia with an interception he also broke up four passes and generally plastered the man on his side. Chicago's passing attack hasn't produced much this year and the Bucs' injury-riddled secondary has been a little more porous than expected, but the Mooney-Dean battle should still be one worth watching.
2. Buccaneers RT Tristan Wirfs vs. Bears OLB Khalil Mack
Wirfs, the 13th player selected overall and the fourth offensive tackle taken in his class last year, had one of the best rookie seasons in Buccaneers franchise history. A starter from Day One at left tackle he played at a Pro Bowl level from the start and, amazingly, was credited with allowing just one sack in the 2020 regular season. That one sack, though, belonged to Chicago's fierce edge rusher Khalil Mack, who has made plenty of offensive tackles of every age look silly. If the Week Five Thursday night game in Chicago constituted a bad day for Wirfs (by comparison) it was one of the very few that he had. Wirfs is playing just as well if not better in his second season and has still not been charged with allowing a sack this season. He and the Buccaneers' front line are coming off a game in Week Six in which they held one of the NFL's most talented group of pass-rushers, led by Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox, without a sack on 42 Tom Brady drop-backs. The challenge only gets stiffer this weekend as Chicago brings the NFL's top ranked pass-rush to Raymond James Stadium, with a good amount of that pressure coming off the edges. Mack more commonly comes at the quarterback from the left end of Chicago's front, which will make him Wirfs' responsibility for much of the afternoon. The Bucs' young linemen with extremely quick feet and incredible agility will have to be at the top of his game to hold Mack at bay, as the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year can win with power, strength and nonstop pursuit. Mack's DPOTY award may have come five years ago but he's clearly lost little in the interim. Scarily, this is actually the first time in his career he's had six or more sacks through the first six games of a season.
3. Bears RT Elijah Wilkinson vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett
Mack has had 23.5 sacks since the start of the 2019 season. The Buccaneers' Barrett has had 31.5, and he has three in Tampa Bay's last three games as he starts to heat up again. Like Mack, Barrett has rushed more often over right tackle this season, though his splits in that regard are a little closer to even. The difference is that Barrett will likely be facing a relatively untested starter at right tackle, at least in a Bears uniform. With opening-day starter Germain Ifedi now on injured reserve, the Bears turned last week to Elijah Wilkinson, an offseason addition who started 26 games over four seasons in Denver after arriving as an undrafted free agent out of UMass. The 6-6, 322-pound Wilkinson was first pressed into service in Week Five when Ifedi went down with a knee injury and he was widely praised for his relief performance in a heady win over Las Vegas, showing well in both run blocking and pass protection. Wilkinson also got the start last Sunday against Green Bay. Barrett, meanwhile, was a man possessed against Philadelphia on Thursday night, repeatedly invading the backfield and chasing Jalen Hurts all over the grass. Barrett only had a half-sack to show for the effort at the end of the night but he provided constant pressure and frequently amazed with his ability to match Jalen Hurts in sudden changes of direction. Three weeks ago, Barrett declared that the Buccaneers' defense would have no more one-sack gamest the rest of the season – they had one each in Weeks 1-3 – and so far he's backed that up, in large part due to his own rising level of play.
4. Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette vs. Bears ILB Roquan Smith
Speaking of rising levels of play, Fournette is getting hotter by the week. He has now surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage in three straight games and he's doing consistent damage both in the running game and as a pass-catcher. On the ground, Fournette has repeatedly powered through defenders to turn short gains into longer ones; he is averaging 4.3 yards per carry but an average of 4.0 of those yards are coming after contact. In the passing game, he has found ways to shake the first defender off and get first downs out of very short throws, as he did with 46 yards after the catch against the Eagles last Thursday. As long as they have Tom Brady and a host of elite pass-catchers, the Buccaneers are always going to be a pass-first team, but Fournette's production is allowing the offense to successfully adjust and stay in high gear when the opposition focuses on taking away medium and long completions. Fournette will find a formidable foe in Smith on Sunday afternoon, however. The fourth-year linebacker is fourth in the NFL with 62 tackles, double that of the Bears' next leading tackler, Alec Ogletree. And he's been a force against the run in particular, with 35 of his stops coming on running plays. Smith will also be an issue for Fournette when he leaves the backfield on passing plays, as he already has one interception and two passes defensed. In fact, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Smith was one of the most well-rounded linebackers in the league in 2020, ranking first in 'hustle stops' with 20, second in pressure rate at 22.0% and second in yards allowed per target as the nearest defender.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
- RB Giovani Bernard (knee/chest) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- QB Tom Brady (right thumb) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Antonio Brown (ankle) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- LB Lavonte David (ankle) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- TE Rob Gronkowski (ribs) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- TE O.J. Howard (ankle) – WED: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
- DL Steve McLendon (not injury related) – WED: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder/hand) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
- CB Richard Sherman (hamstring) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- K Ryan Succop (back) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – WED: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
- S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (concussion) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- CB Xavier Crawford (back) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- S Tashaun Gibson (hip) – WED: LP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- TE Jimmy Graham (not injury related) – WED: DNP; THURS: FP; FRI: lPlaced on reserve/COVID-19 list.
- WR Jakeem Grant (ankle) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- RB Khalil Herbert (shoulder) – WED: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DT Akiem Hicks (groin) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Out.
- TE J.P. Holtz (quad) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
- LB Caleb Johnson (knee) – WED: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. SUN: Placed on reserve/COVID-19 list.
- LB Khalil Mack (foot) – WED: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- WR Darnell Mooney (groin) – WED: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- DT Bilal Nichols (knee) – WED: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
- WR Allen Robinson (ankle) – WED: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- CB Duke Shelley (ankle) – WED: NL; THURS: LP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
- LB Danny Trevathan (not injury related) - WED: NL. THURS: NL. FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
Isolated afternoon thunderstorms, high of 90, low of 72, 32% chance of rain, 61% humidity, winds out of the E at 10 mph.
Head referee: Alex Kemp (eighth season, fourth as referee)
- Favorite: Buccaneers (-12.5)
- Over/Under: 47.5
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
- Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 45
- Touchdowns: WR Antonio Brown/WR Mike Evans/TE Rob Gronkowski, 4
- Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 2,064
- Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 108.0
- Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 332
- Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 34
- Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 420
- Interceptions: CB Jamel Dean/S Mike Edwards, 2
- Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 4.0
- Tackles: LB Devin White, 41
Points Scored: K Cairo Santos, 32
Touchdowns: RB David Montgomery, 3
Passing Yards: QB Justin Fields, 632
Passer Rating: QB Andy Dalton, 84.6
Rushing Yards: RB David Montgomery, 309
Receptions: WR Darnell Mooney, 25
Receiving Yards: WR Darnell Mooney, 234
Interceptions: DL Angelo Blackson/S DeAndre Houston-Carson/CB Jaylon Johnson/Roquan Smith, 1
Sacks: OLB Khalil Mack, 6.0
Tackles: ILB Roquan Smith, 62
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 3rd (32.5 ppg)
Total Offense: 3rd (426.0 ypg)
Passing Offense: 1st (340.7 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 28th (85.3 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 3rd (25.7)
Third-Down Pct.: 3rd (49.4%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 3rd (3.33%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 12th (64.3%)
Scoring Defense: 17th (24.0 ppg)
Total Defense: 9th (335.7 ypg)
Passing Defense: 27th (280.8 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 1st (54.8 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-13th (20.7)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: t-23rd (43.8%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 27th (4.78%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-18th (65.0%)
Turnover Margin: t-7th (+3)
Scoring Offense: 30th (16.3 ppg)
Total Offense: 32nd (246.2 ypg)
Passing Offense: 32nd (117.2 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 7th (120.9 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 27th (17.7)
Third-Down Pct.: 28th (33.3%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 32nd (14.77%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: t-10th (66.7%)
Scoring Defense: 8th (20.7 ppg)
Total Defense: 7th (330.8 ypg)
Passing Defense: 8th (218.7 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 16th (112.2 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-8th (19.8)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 18th (41.9%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 1st (11.48%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 3rd (45.0%)
Turnover Margin: t-11th (+2)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Last week, Chris Godwin moved into the top 10 on Buccaneers' all-time receptions chart, catching five passes against the Eagles to give him 278 on his career. He'll soon be working his way farther up that list. With two more catches he'll move past Jimmie Giles (279) into ninth; with seven more he'll pass Michael Pittman (284) for eighth; and with nine more he'll pass Kevin House (286) for seventh.
- If Rob Gronkowski is able to return to action in Week Seven he'll have a shot at moving up a spot on two prominent NFL charts. If he gets 71 receiving yards, he will pass Greg Olsen (8,683) for the fifth-most yards by a tight end in league history. And just one more touchdown catch would put him in a tie for 11th all time with Isaac Bruce (91).
- Tom Brady needs one more game with four-plus touchdown passes to tie for the most ever in that category. Drew Brees currently has him by one, 37-36.
- After scoring 12 points on two fourth-quarter touchdown catches in the Bucs' Week Five win over Miami, Mike Evans now has 404 career points, good for seventh place on the team's all-time list. Another game like that would allow him to catch a share of sixth place, as kicker Donald Igwebuike is just 12 points ahead of him at 416.
- OLB Shaquil Barrett has recorded 3.0 sacks over the last three games to push his career total as a Buccaneer to 31.5. He needs just 2.0 more to pass Brad Culpepper (33.0) for seventh place on the Bucs' all-time sack list. OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, who split a sack with Vita Vea against Philadelphia, is right behind on that list at 31.0.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on preparations for Sunday's game: "Hopefully preparation will be a little bit better than it was last week. I was not pleased with the number of mental errors we had in that game on the road again, and obviously three critical penalties. So [these are] things we have to correct before it ends up costing us a game. We have to eliminate those major penalties that are all fundamentals. Those two pass-interference penalties, that holding penalty, we've got to eliminate those kind of penalties when it's fundamental errors, and not give them two touchdowns on penalties. For us, it's just don't beat us."
- Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers on preparing to face another mobile quarterback in Chicago's Justin Fields after playing against the Eagles' Jalen Hurts in Week Six: "The thing is last week we definitely had to prepare for a mobile quarterback. Now this week, you're seeing the same kind of athlete but in a lot of ways somewhat faster. The thing is it was a good prep, but we have to do things a lot better than we did last week."
- Tight end O.J. Howard on how an improved running game is making the Bucs' offense harder to defend: "When you are able to run the ball – especially with the weapons we have in the passing game, and you put that on top of it – it's hard to stop us. It's just hard to stop it. Also there's a mentality when you start running the ball and being physically demanding on someone else – it takes away their pride. We've been doing that the past couple weeks running the ball hard and we've got to keep it up."
- Arians on how the Bucs have improved in October: "Well, up until last week the penalties were way down and the mental errors were way down. They came back up a little bit, but we improved in those areas in October. I think we're executing offensively at a higher level. And defensively right now I think Todd [Bowles] is doing a good job of mixing and matching the guys he's got and playing better defense."
- Wide receiver Mike Evans on the challenges of playing the Bears, who beat the Bucs last season: "They're just a physical team. We have to match that physicality. Last year, we didn't. We were sloppy in our technique, had penalties and it cost us on a couple of big drives. I remember Ronald Jones had two really big runs, I think Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) had a really big catch and I had an offensive pass interference. We had a couple of holding calls that really hurt our drives last year. We lost by a point and we just hung around the whole time. We just have to be physical and play fundamental."