The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won by a comfortable margin at FedExField 49 weeks ago. While that's an encouraging memory as the Buccaneers head to the Washington Redskins' home again on Sunday, it's what happened two weeks ago that is more relevant. Of all the things Tampa Bay did right in a pre-bye week win over Jacksonville, winning the turnover margin was most important.
The Bucs' 27-7 road win in Week 11 last season is remembered most as Mike Evans' coming-out party, as the then-rookie receiver racked up 209 receiving yards and two touchdowns and looked virtually unstoppable throughout the afternoon. What might be forgotten is that the Buccaneers built their original 10-0 lead in that game largely on a pick-six by cornerback Johnthan Banks.
"I think it's always good when you have a history where you have won the year before, so we know we can do it," said Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith of his team's return to FedExField. "It's a hostile environment and all of that, but beyond that we're going to have to do the things that allow you to win games. Last year, a takeaway early on got us in position where we could do some things and we'll need that this year, too."
Tampa Bay's defense didn't produce a rash of turnovers against Jacksonville two weeks ago, but it did provide the game's turning point with DE Jacquies Smith's touchdown return of a fumble caused by DE George Johnson. The Bucs had two takeaways in that 38-31 victory and, just as importantly, didn't turn it over once. That the Jaguars were still alive until Vincent Jackson hauled in an onside kick attempt indicates that the defense, while on the right track, can still produce more.
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"With the bye week, it was even stressed more the importance of taking the ball away," said Smith. "That was the turning point in the last game. We did get some good pressure at times last week; we still feel like we can get some more, and I know guys on the back end, our back seven, are really anxious to tighten up some things and play better back there."
Coincidentally, Banks is in the spotlight again as he returns from a knee injury that has caused him the last two games. As Smith pointed out above, the Bucs' pass defense hasn't quite gotten the results it wants in recent games, but Banks' return should help in that regard.
"The bye week and the extra time off really helped him a lot," said Smith of the third-year cornerback who was one of the team's top defenders in the first month of the season. "He practiced all week and he's good to go. He'll start today."
The bye week also helped offensive linemen Logan Mankins (groin) and Evan Smith (ankle) get back into playing shape. Both will be active on Sunday after missing varying amounts of time, though only Mankins will step immediately back into the starting lineup. Mankins will resume his role at left guard, allowing the versatile and impressive Kevin Pamphile to move back into a reserve role as the swing tackle. Smith is available to play but the Buccaneers have the luxury of sticking with Joe Hawley at center while Smith eases back into action.
INACTIVES: BUCS VS. REDSKINS
"It's always about the next guy up when there are injuries," said Smith. "It's an opportunity for someone when you do have injuries. Joe Hawley has been outstanding every time we've played him; Kevin Pamphile stepping up has given us flexibility at the guard position or at the tackle position. We should also start to get some of our players back – Evan Smith [and] Logan Mankins should be good to go."
No matter how the Bucs' front five stacks up, the team needs that crew to continue its recent strong play. Given the injury-induced shuffling to that lineup and the fact that rookies Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet are starting at left tackle and right guard, respectively, the Bucs have been more than pleased with how well the offensive line has performed so far. That has allowed RBs Doug Martin and Charles Sims make the most of their talents.
"Doug Martin has been outstanding throughout, whether it be running inside, making people miss in the open field or block protection," said Smith. "And then the combination with Charles Sims, too; both of them have been everything we wanted them to be. In order for that to happen you have to be doing some good things up front, and that's what we're doing."
PHOTOS: BUCS DEPART FOR WASHINGTON
The Buccaneers activated DT Akeem Spence from the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list on Saturday and he will be involved in the defensive line rotation on Sunday. That will help in the absence of DT Tony McDaniel, who suffered a groin injury in practice on Wednesday and is inactive for Sunday's game. The Buccaneers' other six inactives are QB Ryan Griffin, CB Tim Jennings, S Keith Tandy, T Reid Fragel, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and WR Russell Shepard.
Photos of Mike Evans during his performance in last year's 27-7 victory over the Redskins.
With Jennings inactive, the Bucs will start Banks and Mike Jenkins, with Alterraun Verner remaining in the nickel back role and rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah potentially picking up some snaps.
Washington is still trying to overcome a rather lengthy list of injuries. While starting left tackle Trent Williams is returning after missing one game due to a concussion, center Kory Lichtensteiger is not yet ready to come back from his neck injury. The Redskins' inactive list is almost fully made up of injured players: WR DeSean Jackson, CB DeAngelo Hall, RB Chris Thompson, CB Chris Culliver and C Kory Lichtensteiger. Rounding out their inactive list are QB Robert Griffin III and DE Frank Kearse.
With Lichtensteiger out for a second straight week, Josh LeRibeus will start at center. However, the Reskins get standout left tackle Trent Williams back from the concussion that knocked him out for a week. Thompson has been part of a three-headed monster in the Washington backfield but the smaller, second-year back is out this week, meaning the Redskins may utilize Alfred Morris and Matt Jones more on third downs.
Despite those injuries, the Buccaneers expect a tough test from the Redskins, particularly when it comes to stopping Alfred Morris and a determined rushing attack.
"We see a team that, just like we are, is committed to getting the run established," said Smith. "They've had some unfortunate things go against them, but they should get some of their players back this week. We expect a balanced attack coming at us and we need to be able to beat it."
The Buccaneers take on the Redskins on Sunday afternoon with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET. The game will be played at FedExField and will be broadcast by FOX and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.