The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return from their bye week to take on the Washington Football Team on Sunday, and they can only hope things go nearly as well as they did after last year's break.
The 2020 Buccaneers famously went undefeated after their bye week, winning four in a row to earn a Wild Card berth – their first playoff spot in 13 years – and then four more culminating in a 31-9 victory over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV. This year's bye comes four weeks earlier, and with a 17th game added to the schedule, so another unbeaten streak would be a tall order; still, the Buccaneers can strive to jell, post-bye, on both sides of the ball as they so memorably did last season.
Though it's not a huge part of their Super Bowl-run narrative – finally overcoming the Saints and winning on the road at Lambeau Field were bigger stories – the Washington Football Team gave them one of their stiffest tests on the road to the championship. The Bucs' December winning streak gave them the top Wild Card spot, which earned them a trip to the capital to face the Football Team, which had won the NFC East but finished just 7-9. Erstwhile starting quarterback Alex Smith couldn't go due to a calf injury, so Taylor Heinicke got just his second NFL start, his first for Washington, and nearly engineered the upset. Heinicke threw for over 300 yards and added a string of critical first downs with scrambles but the Bucs held on, 31-23, thanks to a key sack by Lavonte David on Washington's last drive.
The two teams have diverged from there in both roster construction and the standings. The Buccaneers focused on keeping their Super Bowl-winning roster together and surprisingly did so despite some severe salary cap challenges. That roster has rushed out to a 6-2 start and was in first place in the division heading into the aforementioned bye. Washington brought in a considerable number of new faces, including the quarterback they intended to lead the way in former Buccaneer Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick suffered a hip injury in his Washington debut, however, so the job went back to Heinicke. The Football Team is 2-6 coming out of its bye week, which doesn't work quite as well this year in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys standing at 7-2.
Washington surely expected that a more explosive offense – with Fitzpatrick throwing to the likes of Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas and the continued emergence of young running back Antonio Gibson – would complement one of the league's best and most aggressive defenses. However, injuries have taken a toll not only on Fitzpatrick but the offensive line and Thomas, and Gibson hasn't quite had the breakout season many expected, with 442 yards and 4.0 yards per carry through eight games. Meanwhile, the Washington defense has surprisingly slipped statistically, ranking 27th in both points and yards allowed and, most unexpectedly, only coming in 18th in sack rate despite sporting a supremely talented defensive line. It's likely that a defense led by Jonathan Allen and Chase Young will round back into 2020 form after the team's break, though edge rusher Montez Sweat is expected to miss a month of action with a broken jaw.
As for the Buccaneers, they will look to start a new winning streak after their four game run was ended in all-too-familiar fashion with a loss in New Orleans in Week Eight. The Saints proceeded to lose a nail biter to Atlanta last Sunday, keeping the Buccaneers in first place in the division, but it is still a tight race, particularly with New Orleans currently holding the tiebreaker. As noted above, the Bucs launched a team-record winning streak immediately after their bye week in 2020, but what happened in the month before that break was an important part of that season's story as well. The '20 Bucs were also 6-2 after eight games but then had a November dip with three losses in four games. That included a blowout defeat against the Saints and narrow losses to the Rams and Chiefs, all eventual playoff teams. At 7-5 after 12 weeks, the Buccaneers were nearly eliminated from division title contention and were not a lock to win a playoff berth. This year, the Bucs hope to avoid a third-quarter swoon and instead go on a run that positions them to chase not only a division title but even a first-round playoff bye.
As we'll discuss further below, the Bucs' offense is humming and the defense is possibly close to getting some important injured players back in the mix, but their efforts are being self-sabotaged by costly penalties. The Buccaneers will try to kick off the second half of the 2021 season with a much cleaner game and, hopefully, a win at FedExField to kick off another long run.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) at Washington Football Team (2-6)
Sunday, November 14, 1:00 p.m. ET
FedExField (capacity: 82,000)
Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)
TV Broadcast Team: Adam Amin (play-by-play), Mark Schlereth (analyst), Shannon Spake (reporter)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
Prior to the 2018 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Football Team were dead even all time, not only in their 20 regular-season dates but also in the postseason. Then Tampa Bay and Washington squared off at Raymond James Stadium in Week 10 of that '18 campaign and the Football Team came away with a 16-3 win and a one-game edge in the head-to-head battle, 11-10. However, Tampa Bay subsequently took the lead in the more important postseason history with a 31-23 Wild Card win at Washington last January that launched the Bucs' run to the Super Bowl LV title. The Bucs have now taken two of the three postseason meetings between the two teams, with another Divisional Round victory in 1999 and a Wild Card loss in 2005. Those latter two games were both played at Raymond James Stadium.
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke was pushed into the starting role for that Wild Card game by an injury to Alex Smith and he performed quite well to keep the game close to the very end, passing for 306 yards and rushing for another 46 and a touchdown. However, Tom Brady topped him with 381 yards and two touchdowns (one each to Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown) and Lavonte David sealed the game late with a third-down sack of Heinicke on Washington's final drive.
The 2018 regular-season game was memorable for the Buccaneers, but not in a particularly good way. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs' offense racked up 501 yards and 29 first downs and averaged 7.5 yards per play…and scored just three points, as noted above. Fitzpatrick was picked off twice, the Bucs lost two fumbles and the offense incredibly went 0-5 in the red zone, with just one field goal. That's the only game in NFL history in which a team has gained 500-plus yards but scored three or fewer points. Fitzpatrick, coincidentally, now plays for Washington, though he is currently on injured reserve.
Maybe that outcome shouldn't have been a surprise. Weird things tend to happen when Tampa Bay and Washington get together. Weird things like a two-point conversion gamble winning a 2005 shootout against Washington when Mike Alstott willed the ball over the line for a 36-35 win. Or like the playoff rematch later that same year when Washington won, 17-10, despite being held to only 120 yards of offense.
There was also a 17-16 Tampa Bay win in Washington in 2010 in which Donovan McNabb rallied the home team with a fourth-and-goal touchdown pass to Santana Moss with nine seconds left only to see the snap on the extra point go through the holder's hands. Washington won a contest in Tampa, 24-22, after Connor Barth made fields of 50, 57 and 47 yards. The visiting kicker, Billy Cundiff, meanwhile, missed his first three field goals but then drilled a 41-yarder to win it at the end.
And, of course, there was the 2015 game in Washington that turned quarterback Kirk Cousins into a meme. The Buccaneers led that game, 24-0, before Cousins engineered an incredible comeback in a 31-30 Washington win, prompting him to repeatedly yell, "You like that?" in front of a camera in the corridor as he ran back to the locker room.
As for the Bucs' biggest win in the series, it was that 1999 playoff game that looked for much of way like it was going to send 11-5 Tampa Bay and it's fantastic defense to an early exit. Then John Lynch shifted the momentum with a third-quarter interception and Warren Sapp came up with a huge sack and forced fumble against Brad Johnson. Both of those turnovers led to touchdowns in a 14-13 comeback win.
- Doug Williams, currently the senior advisor to Washington Team President Jason Wright, is a member of the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers drafted Williams with the 17th overall pick in the 1978 draft and in just his second season he led the team to its first playoff berth in just the fourth year of the franchise's existence. Williams played five seasons for the Buccaneers before heading to the USFL in 1983. He later returned to the Bucs organization in the front office 2004, serving five seasons as a personnel executive and one as the director of pro personnel in 2009.
- Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles spent most of his eight-year playing career with the Washington franchise. He made the team as an undrafted free agent in 1986 and was a full-time starter by his second season, helping Washington win Super Bowl XXII at the end of that campaign. After five seasons in Washington, Bowles left for San Francisco for one season and then returned to his original NFL home for two more campaigns before moving into coaching.
- Martin Mayhew, currently in his first season as Washington's general manager, played cornerback for the Buccaneers from 1993-96. Mayhew signed with the Buccaneers in 1993, the NFL's first season of unrestricted free agency after four seasons in Washington and eventually played in 60 games with 59 starts for Tampa Bay, intercepting eight passes.
- Buccaneers Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Cody Grimm is the son of Hall of Fame guard Russ Grimm, who spent his entire 11-year playing career with Washington.
- The last stop for Washington Special Teams Coordinator Nate Kaczor before he joined Washington in 2019 was Tampa. Kaczor held the same position for the Buccaneers from 2016-18 under Head Coach Dirk Koetter.
- Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is currently on injured reserve, had a two-year stop in Tampa (2017-18) as one of the eight teams for which he played before signing with the Football Team this past offseason. Fitzpatrick started 10 games for the Buccaneers, with a 4-6 record, a 24-15 TD-INT ratio and a passer rating of 95.3.
- Wide receiver Adam Humphries is in his first season with the Football Team after four years in Tampa and two in Tennessee. Humphries initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson with the Bucs in 2015. He played in 60 games with the Buccaneers and put up strong numbers as a slot receiver, catching 219 passes for 2,329 yards and nine touchdowns.
- Washington Senior Director of Pro Personnel Eric Stokes was Tampa Bay's director of college scouting in 2012 and 2013.
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 Ron Rivera
- Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner
- Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio
- Special Teams Coordinator Nate Kaczor
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)
- TE John Bates (4th-round draft pick)
- WR Dyami Brown (3rd-round draft pick)
- WR DeAndre Carter (FA)
- LS Camaron Cheeseman (6th-round draft pick)
- T Sam Cosmi (2nd-round draft pick)
- LB Jamin Davis (1st-round draft pick)
- QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (UFA – currently on injured reserve)
- G Ereck Flowers (T-MIA)
- WR Adam Humphries (FA)
- CB William Jackson (UFA)
- CB Benjamin St-Juste (3rd-round draft pick)
- C Tyler Larsen (UFA)
- T Charles Leno (FA)
- LB David Mayo (FA)
- S Bobby McCain (FA)
- WR Curtis Samuel (UFA)
- K Joey Slye (FA)
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.
- Washington added two very experienced personnel executives to their staff in January, hiring former Buccaneer player Martin Mayhew as the team's new general manager and former Carolina G.M. Marty Hurney as the executive vice president of football/player personnel. Mayhew served as the Detroit Lions' general manager for eight years and was most recently the vide president of player personnel for the San Francisco 49ers. Hurney had two separate stints as the Panthers' general manager and overlapped with current Washington Head Coach Ron Rivera for five seasons.
- Washington added a third former NFL general manager to its staff in March, hiring Chris Polian to serve as the director of pro personnel. Polian was previously the G.M. for Indianapolis from 2009-11 and Jacksonville from 2013-19.
- Additional changes in the Washington scouting department in 2021 included the hiring of Jeff Beathard as the team's new southeast region scout and Sheldon White as a college scout. The Football Team also promoted Connor Barringer and Tyler Claytor to pro scouting positions.
- Quarterback Alex Smith retired after the 2020 season, in which he had made a stirring comeback from a devastating leg injury suffered in 2018. His departure and the team's late-December decision to part ways with 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins prompted the team to sign well-traveled veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick as an unrestricted free agent. Fitzpatrick began the season as Washington's starter but suffered a hip injury in the season opener, prompting the team to go back to Taylor Heinicke. Fitzpatrick did not undergo surgery on his hip and could return to the active roster this season, perhaps as soon as the team's game against Tampa Bay this weekend.
- Two other long-time Washington standouts departed in the offseason, with defensive end Ryan Kerrigan signing with Philadelphia and tackle Morgan Moses joining the Jets after he was released by the Football Team.
Are Reinforcements on the Way? – The restorative powers of the bye week are perhaps occasionally overstated, but there's little doubt the Buccaneers welcomed the break after a first half that saw required significant adjustments to a tricky run of injuries. The Buccaneers are 6-2 and right in the thick of the NFC race but they don't believe they've hit their full potential yet on either side of the ball. The second half (or the last nine games in a 17-game season, to be exact) could be better if some sidelined players make it back on the field sooner rather than later. The most encouraging development happened early in the bye week, when cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and wide receiver Scotty Miller opened a 21-day window that should signal their impending return from injured reserve. With Carlton Davis still on I.R. and Antonio Brown's return prognosis from an ankle injury still uncertain, the return of those two players in particular would help patch up some depth-chart cracks. Tight end Rob Gronkowski might be ready for a full return after an extra week of rest, too, following an attempted comeback in New Orleans that only lasted a few plays before he was forced out again by back spasms. Richard Sherman, an in-season replacement for the already injured cornerbacks, played in three games before he too was knocked out by a hamstring injury. He was close to returning against the Saints and so could be fully back by the Washington game.
Taylor Made for Bucs – Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke nearly ended Tampa Bay's historic Super Bowl run last season before it could get started. The Buccaneers went to FedExField last January as clear favorites in a Wild Card matchup with the 7-9 Football Team, winners of the wobbly NFC East, but had to survive a nail-biter to move on. Making just the second start of his NFL career, and his first for Washington, Heinicke threw for over 300 yards and ran for another 46 plus a touchdown in what was eventually a 31-23 Bucs victory. Heinicke had the Football Team across midfield with two-and-a-half minutes to play before Lavonte David's drive-killing sack. Heinicke's star turn in the postseason didn't win him the job in 2021, as Washington brought in veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to try to stabilize the offense, but the job went back to the younger passer when Fitzpatrick sustained a hip injury in Week One. Heinicke hasn't displayed quite the same level of magic in his seven starts this season, with Washington losing five of them and his interception total (nine) nearly matching his touchdowns (11). However, the Buccaneers are obviously well aware that the former Old Dominion standout is capable of putting together big games, like the 290-yard, three-touchdown, no-interception performance that led Washington a Week Four shootout win over the Falcons. The Bucs also are keenly aware of how good Heinicke is at escaping defenders and either extending plays or picking up first downs with his feet. Just three weeks ago he ran for 95 yards on 10 carries against the Packers. There is also the outside possibility that Fitzpatrick will return to the field to face his former team. He remains on injured reserve and the original timeline estimate of six to eight weeks to heal now looks like it might have been a bit optimistic. Still, it will have been nine weeks by the time the Bucs game rolls around, and it would be satisfying in at least one way if he could start the game. Fitzpatrick has played for nine NFL teams now, and through his travels has had an opportunity to start against every other team in the league…except one. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Healing Self-Inflicted Wounds – On his radio show the day after Tampa Bay's Week Eight loss in New Orleans, Head Coach Bruce Arians contrasted how the team's two defeats this season have felt. Arians said the Los Angeles Rams clearly beat the Bucs in a Week Three 34-24 decision, but that the Buccaneers felt like they beat themselves in New Orleans. The Saints obviously deserve the credit for outplaying their division rivals that Sunday and undoubtedly feel as if they were responsible for the outcome, but there are games every season in which a team believes it contributed heavily to its own demise with self-inflicted wounds. The Thursday night game in Chicago in 2020 was one of those, and this latest loss in the Superdome is another. The biggest disappointment for the Buccaneers was the 11 penalties for 99 yards, which included two roughing-the-passer calls, a horse-collar tackle and a taunting flag. The first two kept alive the drive that gave the Saints a second-quarter lead, one of them even erasing an interception. The taunting penalty on Devin White in the fourth quarter and a Ross Cockrell defensive holding flag were key moments in the Saints' last two scoring drives, which trumped a spirited Buccaneers comeback. The Buccaneers are now the NFL's leaders in penalty yards against, with 580, or nearly 73 per game, and that doesn't even account for the lost yards or erased big plays on defense that are often the results of penalties. Tampa Bay was also the league's most penalized game last season after that aforementioned game in Chicago. From that point on, the Bucs solved that problem rather dramatically, becoming the least penalized team in the NFL for the remainder of the regular season. The Bucs' offense is putting up huge numbers and the defense is capable of big, game-changing plays, the Bucs won't truly take it into another gear until they stop hurting themselves.
NFC South Tightens Up – The Buccaneers went into their bye week with a slight lead in the NFC South standings. They came out of it with a one-game advantage, as the Saints defeated the Falcons in Week Nine as the Bucs looked on from their sofas. New Orleans is now 5-3 to the Bucs' 6-2, though the Saints hold the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to their win over Tampa Bay in Week Eight. New Orleans is trying to win the division for the fifth year in a row. Before that current run, no team in the NFC South had ever won the division more than three times in a row since it was formed in 2002. The Bucs didn't end up needing the division crown to go all the way last year, but running another three-game road gauntlet – this time with full crowds in each hostile venue – is not chief among the team's plans in 2021. The urgent goal is to break the Saints grip on the division and get at least one home game, if not the NFC's lone first-week bye, in the playoffs. That race starts in earnest in Week 10. The Bucs head off to Washington and then come home to play the Giants before consecutive road trips to Indianapolis and Atlanta. In Week 14, it's a visit from the powerful Buffalo Bills. The Saints start that same stretch with a tough road draw in Tennessee, followed by another trip to Philly and home dates with Buffalo and Dallas. They then get one more road game at the Jets before Week 15 brings the big rematch in Tampa. Both teams would like to arrive at the game with a lead in the NFC South standings and a chance to use that contest as a springboard to the division title.
Record Pace – Tom Brady had an NFL-high 25 touchdown passes before the Bucs' bye week, marking the 16th time in his 20 full seasons as a starter that he's hit that mark, tying Peyton Manning for the most such seasons in league history. And there are still nine games to go. If Brady were to keep up his current pace of touchdown and yardage collection, he would finish with 5,631 passing yards and 53 touchdown passes. That first figure would break Peyton Manning's 2013 record of 5,477 yards, and the second one would trail only Manning's 55 touchdowns that same season. Yes, the 17th game, new to the NFL this year, would probably lead to some calls for an asterisk, but it's not as if it would lessen Brady's legacy in any way. Rather, these types of numbers in his age-44 season would be new cause for wonder and something wholly unlike the NFL has ever seen before. More importantly, in a conference loaded with high-powered offenses run by a collection of MVP-candidate quarterbacks, the Buccaneers may need Brady to keep firing away at such a ridiculous pace in order to keep up. Brady has already had four games with 375 or more passing yards and five with four or more touchdown passes; he had averaged one four-TD performance per nine games prior to the 2021 season. There were some Buccaneers who really needed the bye week to recuperate and recharge; the red-hot Brady probably would have preferred to keep playing. If he comes back from the break on the same kind of run, the NFL may be about to witness history. Again.
1. Buccaneers G Ali Marpet vs. Football Team DT Jonathan Allen
According to Football Outsiders, the Buccaneers have had the second most effective offensive line in 2021, ranking second in pass protection (4.0 adjusted sack rate) and sixth in run blocking (5.08 adjusted line yards). Left guard Ali Marpet has been a big part of that and has begun to gather some long-awaited Pro Bowl buzz. Football Outsiders has the Bucs as the league's second-best team when running over the three interior line positions, which they do on 62% of their handoffs. Marpet has also helped provide excellent protection for Tom Brady, as Tampa Bay ranks second in sacks allowed per pass play at 3.43%. That number will be tested on Sunday when the Buccaneers take on one of the NFL's best defensive fronts in Washington, a group led this year by fourth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. Allen has simply been one of the most impactful interior lineman in the entire NFL this season and he leads the team with 6.0 sacks, 19 quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss. NFL Next Gen Stats have credited the 6-3, 300-pound lineman with 30 quarterback pressures, which is third among the league's interior linemen after Tennessee's Jeffery Simmons and the Rams' Aaron Donald. Allen has an extremely quick get-off at the snap but is also one of the most important players in Washington's 11th-ranked run defense. The play in the trenches when the Bucs have the ball will very much be a strength-on-strength matchup between these two lines, but the individual snaps pairing up Marpet and Allen will be particularly noteworthy.
2. Football Team T Sam Cosmi vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett
Tampa Bay's defensive sack rate (5.28%) currently ranks 27th in the NFL, down from seventh last season. As the Buccaneers come back from the bye and look to get their defense back to the extremely high level it was playing in the latter months of 2020, getting more consistent pressure on the quarterback will be the key element to that improvement. Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who currently paces the team with 5.5 sacks, is likely to lead that charge. Barrett's 25 quarterback pressures, as compiled by Next Gen Stats, also leads the Buccaneers and his pressure rate of 11.1%, while down a bit from the past two years, is still quite good. Barrett is also one of the league's best at causing turnovers with his pressures, which could be a big factor in a game against a relatively young quarterback who likes to create plays out of structure. Barrett has seen a lot of action on both ends of the Bucs' front line but has rushed off the left edge slightly more often than the right. When he does that Sunday, he'll likely be going up against Washington rookie Sam Cosmi, the 51st-overall pick in the 2021 draft. Cosmi missed Washington's last three games before the bye week but has returned to practice this week in what is likely a precursor to him return to action on game day. Cosmi stepped right into the lineup at right tackle to start the season, replacing departed veteran Morgan Moses, and immediately displayed some dominant run-blocking. As one would expect from a very green rookie, Cosmi's pass-blocking was a bit shaky at the start of the season but he quickly showed improvement in that area, as well. Cosmi emerged as a top draft prospect at the University of Texas thanks to his athleticism, flexibility and fluid footwork. Assuming he's back in the lineup Sunday, Cosmi will face a stiff challenge trying to keep Barrett away from Taylor Heinicke.
3. Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette vs. Football Team LB Cole Holcomb
As noted above, Washington owns the league's 11th-best run defense, allowing 102.6 yards per game and also ranking seventh with a per-carry average allowed of 4.0. The Buccaneers' top-ranked aerial attack has a good matchup on Sunday with Washington's 32nd-ranked pass defense, but Bruce Arians almost certainly wants to return to the more balanced attack the Bucs used to win four straight before their Week Eight loss in New Orleans. From Weeks 4-7, the Tampa Bay rushing attack generated more than 100 yards in each contest and averaged almost 30 carries per game. In the loss to the Saints, the Bucs gained 71 yards on just 14 carries. Fueling that month-long surge was a series of very strong performances by Leonard Fournette, who grabbed the lion's share of the backfield duties from Ronald Jones. Fournette, who has also made a consistent impact in the passing game, has 668 yards from scrimmage, six more than Chris Godwin for the team lead. He has consistently run with power between the tackles and tacked on extra yards after contact. A fifth-round pick in 2019, linebacker Cole Holcomb isn't one of the bigger names on Washington's defense but he is the team's leading tackler by a comfortable margin with 73 stops. A team-high 44 of those tackles have come on running plays, and 57 of his stops have come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, the majority of them in between the numbers. Holcomb has seen his playing time rise from 67% as a rookie to 73% last year to 98% in 2021. He ran a 4.51-yard 40-yard dash at the 2019 Combine, so he should be able to match Fournette's acceleration in the middle of the field.
4. Football Team WR Terry McLaurin vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean
A third-round draft pick in 2019, McLaurin has produced like a first-rounder. Of all the receivers selected in that 2019 draft – including 11 who went off the board before the Ohio State product, only Seattle's DK Metcalf (2,783) and Tennessee's A.J. Brown (2,677) have put up more receiving yards than McLaurin's 2,160. McLaurin runs very sharp routes and is excellent with the ball in his hands, as his 468 yards after the catch last season attest. As Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean surely knows from film study this week, Heinicke is not afraid to throw it up deep in McLaurin's direction. For instance, in a Week Four win at Atlanta, McLaurin was targeted on deep balls (20-plus yards in the air) on seven different occasions, the most by any NFL player in a single game since Next Gen Stats started tracking them in 2016. Those shots produced four completions for 94 yards and two touchdowns. McLaurin plays 75% of his snaps on the outside and has been split wide left nearly twice as often as he's been split right. That will bring him into the territory patrolled by Dean, who takes nearly all of his snaps at right outside cornerback. Dean has quietly had a strong season, especially since returning from the knee injury that kept him out of the Week Four game against Miami. According to Next Gen Stats, the passes thrown against the Bucs with Dean as the nearest defender have had an expected completion rate of 58.2% but he has only allowed an actual completion rate of 44.4%. That -13.7% difference is very strong as is the 51.0 passer rating that Dean has allowed on those throws.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
NL: Not listed
- RB Giovani Bernard (chest) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Antonio Brown (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- CB Dee Delaney (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.
- WR Chris Godwin (foot) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- TE Rob Gronkowski (back) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- DL Steve McLendon (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- OLB Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder/hand) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Questionable.
- CB Rashard Robinson (hamstring) – WEDS: LP; THURS: DNP; FRI: Placed on injured reserve.
- DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Dyami Brown (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- T Sam Cosmi (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- RB Antonio Gibson (shin) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- CB William Jackson (knee) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
- TE Sammis Reyes (hip) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
- WR Curtis Samuel (groin) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- G Brandon Scherff (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- WR Cam Sims (hamstring) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Not listed.
- CB Benjamin St-Juste (illness) - WEDS: NL. THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
- DE Montez Sweat (jaw) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
Partly cloudy, high of 50, low of 35, 3% chance of rain, 51% humidity, winds out of the WSW at 8 mph.
Head referee: Brad Rogers (5th season, 3rd as referee)
- Favorite: Buccaneers (-8.0)
- Over/Under: 51.0
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 56
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 8
Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 2,650
Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 108.6
Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 439
Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 50
Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 660
Interceptions: CB Jamel Dean/S Mike Edwards, 2
Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 5.5
Tackles: LB Devin White, 61
Points Scored: K Dustin Hopkins*, 46
Touchdowns: RB Antonio Gibson/WR Terry McLaurin, 4
Passing Yards: QB Taylor Heinicke, 1,928
Passer Rating: QB Taylor Heinicke, 84.3
Rushing Yards: RB Antonio Gibson, 442
Receptions: WR Terry McLaurin, 43
Receiving Yards: WR Terry McLaurin, 573
Interceptions: CB Kendall Fuller/LB Cole Holcomb/CB William Jackson/S Bobby McCain, 1
Sacks: DT Jonathan Allen, 6.0
Tackles: LB Cole Holcomb, 73
(* Hopkins is no longer with the Washington Football Team.)
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 1st (32.5 ppg)
Total Offense: 3rd (423.1 ypg)
Passing Offense: 1st (327.5 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 25th (95.6 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 4th (24.8)
Third-Down Pct.: 2nd (49.0%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 2nd (3.43%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 7th (67.6%)
Scoring Defense: 13th (22.9 ppg)
Total Defense: 7th (335.8 ypg)
Passing Defense: 20th (257.8 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 2nd (78.0 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 16th (20.9)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 15th (39.8%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 27th (5.28%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 11th (55.2%)
Turnover Margin: t-8th (+4)
Scoring Offense: 25th (19.5 ppg)
Total Offense: 16th (348.6 ypg)
Passing Offense: 20th (230.5 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 12th (118.1 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: t-15th (20.8)
Third-Down Pct.: 27th (34.7%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 10th (5.36%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 31st (45.5%)
Scoring Defense: 29th (28.4 ppg)
Total Defense: 29th (389.4 ypg)
Passing Defense: 32nd (286.8 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 11th (102.6 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: 29th (23.0)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 32nd (56.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 18th (6.27%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 17th (61.3%)
Turnover Margin: t-23rd (-4)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Mike Evans heads into Week 10 needing just one touchdown to tie Mike Alstott and two to surpass him as the all-time leading touchdown scorer in franchise history. Evans, who already has three multiple-TD games this season, stands at 70 career scores, just behind Alstott's 71. He could become the first player in the NFL to break a team's all-time touchdown record since Rob Gronkowski did so for the New England Patriots in 2016.
- Chris Godwin made his way into the top 10 in Buccaneers history in receptions earlier this season and has since gone about steadily reeling in those players above him on the list. After taking over seventh place from Kevin House last week, Godwin now finds himself just behind Keyshawn Johnson for sixth place. With 294 catches, Godwin needs five to pass Johnson (298) and could even conceivably catch Alstott (305) in fifth place and Warrick Dunn (306) in fourth.
- Godwin could also climb up a spot on the Bucs' all-time receiving yardage chart. He's at 4,200 yards after his 140-yard outing in New Orleans in Week Eight, which is exactly one 100-yard game away from catching Jimmie Giles (4,300) for the fifth spot.
- If Rob Gronkowski is able to return to action in Week 10 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).
- Both of Tampa Bay's starting outside linebackers, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are sitting on 31.0 sacks as a Buccaneer after Barrett got one against the Bears and Pierre-Paul got two. Those two squeezed into the booth next to Brad Culpepper, also 33.0 sacks, at the seventh spot on the franchise's all-time sack list. Either one could pass Chidi Ahanotu (34.5) for the sixth spot with two more against the Saints.
- If the Buccaneers defeat the Football Team they will improve to 7-2 and match the best nine-game start to a season in franchise history. The 1979 and 2002 teams also started out 7-2 and both made the playoffs, with the '79 team losing in the NFC Championship Game and the 2002 squad winning Super Bowl XXXVII.
- Head Coach Bruce Arians on having the depth to be able to take a cautious approach to bringing back injured players: "When they're ready, they're ready. Right now, it's just a matter of, 'Let's win this week.' Put the best team we can out there this week and as they come back, if they come back, when they come back, we'll keep adding pieces to it. For this week, let's get the best 47 or 48 we can play with this week."
- Running back Giovani Bernard on how the Bucs came back from their bye week: "I think coming off the loss guys were already wanting to come back. Obviously, the bye week, guys needed the time off, but I think everybody had that sour taste in their mouth to come back and get to work. In the overall aspect of coming off a bye for guys, I think guys are just ready to get back to work. Obviously, a lot of guys are coming back healthy. I think it's an opportunity for us to regroup, come back together and come back to work."
- Wide receiver Scotty Miller on eventually getting the chance to contribute like he did in 2020: " know at some point it's coming my way. That's what I think whenever I'm in practice or I'm not getting the ball in the game. I just try to stay ready because at some point it's going to come my way and I have to be ready. You can't sit there and be frustrated and be upset that it's not right now because if that's your mindset you're not going to make the play when you have that chance. In this league, you don't have many chances, so you have to be ready and take advantage of every one that comes your way."
- Safety Antoine Winfield on the difference between the quarterback Taylor Heinicke and the Washington offense now and in last year's playoffs: "That was the quarterback's first start and he had a great game when we played him, but he's more comfortable now with all the starts this year. I feel like that's probably the biggest difference is having him out there moving around, but I feel like this time it was good for us to see that. Last year, we weren't planning on him coming in here and doing what he could do. I feel like that's a different thing is being able to prepare for them."
- ·Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting on Heinicke's performance in the playoffs: "Not having film on a guy, you never really know what to expect. For him – he was a dark horse. He showed up and he performed. He could run, he could throw, he could do everything. He trusted himself and the guys trust him. That trust goes a long way. I know that he's obviously out for us this year. He really wants that win. We're just going at it and getting ready to prepare for him, prepare for his legs, his runs, his passes and everything that he has to offer."