-There may be an extra game this season but that doesn't change the importance of December football for the Buccaneers. If you recall last year during their Super Bowl season, they really caught fire following their Week 13 bye, cruising to eight straight wins, including a championship victory. They're hoping that happens again as they enter the month of December and get set to take on the division-rival Atlanta Falcons this Sunday.
"Definitely, we know what's at stake," said running back Leonard Fournette, who scored four touchdowns and won NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in Indy. "Coach BA (Bruce Arians) tells us every day in the meetings in the morning what we're playing for. Just coming out knowing that each individual plays a part on this team and that will make us whole – to come out and do our job."
Not only could the game be another notch in the win column, but it could extend the Buccaneers' three-game lead on the NFC South. The game matters on multiple levels and the expectation is for the Bucs to get the win again over the Falcons, besting them in Week Two 48-25 in a contest that was closer than the final score suggests."
"I think they're always heightened," said defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of the expectations places on the Bucs. "The expectations for us are to go out there and win the division. That's the first step, especially getting into the playoffs. You do that and take care of business – you know that you're going to be at home for your first playoff game and go from there. Obviously, it helps when you get that done. Last year, we took a tougher road and that's the path that we put ourselves into by not taking care of business, so we're in a position where we can control our own destiny and we want it to remain that way."
"Yeah, I mean it's either going to [be] you can lock it up or be in a dogfight all the way to the end," said Arians. "That's the way most of the schedules are now, keeping all the division games in December and January so it keeps everybody involved."
Each side of the ball has their end of the bargain to hold up. Indianapolis saw an effort in which the Bucs took the ball away five times from the league leaders in turnover margin, while also registering multiple sacks and making the league's leading rusher a non-factor, suggesting a huge step forward for the unit. The defense is now looking to carry that forward.
"We all have to step up as a collective group, as a whole," defensive tackle Vita Vea said. "I think number one, communication when we're out there – just talking to each other. I think that should be the next step for us. That would be a big stride for us. [If] we continue to communicate and work together out there, then I think we'll be where we want to be when the time comes."
The offense has the benefit of a guy that's been there more than any other player in NFL history. There's something about quarterback Tom Brady and his play in December leading into the postseason. He's stressed the importance of playing your best football as you head into the playoffs and having that momentum before.
"I think he is so detail oriented and that kind of spreads its way through the whole team," said his right tackle, Tristan Wirfs. "We've been having those meetings on Friday afternoons for I don't know how long now. I think they are paying off. Our run game has been improved. He just tells us, 'I just want all of us to be on the same page. This time of year, teams can either fall off or keep getting better.' He said he wants us to keep getting better, and I know all of us want that. I don't know what it is about him, but he's pretty special."
-The Buccaneers placed guard Aaron Stinnie on injured reserve on Wednesday, after he suffered a knee injury against the Colts. The good news is that starting left guard Ali Marpet looks like he may be able to return, practicing Wednesday for the first time in over a week in a limited capacity.
-Also, hey, Pro Bowl social media voting is now live. A hashtag and retweet on Twitter count as votes so get out there and vote your favorite players on social media!
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