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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gerald McCoy: It's the Season of Spoiling

DT Gerald McCoy is working hard to return from a bicep injury and he wants to be part of a strong finish to the season against a trio of NFC South opponents

Gerald McCoy is quite obviously a generous man. The "D-Line Delivers Christmas" program he cofounded with former teammate Michael Bennett in 2012 has steadily grown over six years and just this Tuesday brightened the holidays for many Bay area families. Next Tuesday, he's going to surprise even more families in need with his "McCoy Family Christmas" event. This is clearly his favorite time of the year.

He would be enjoying himself even more if his Tampa Bay Buccaneers were still alive in the NFC playoff hunt but, at 4-9, the team has been officially eliminated. However, the Buccaneers will definitely have an impact on the NFC South title chase, as their three remaining games are against Atlanta (8-5), New Orleans (9-4) and Carolina (9-4). And when it comes to those division rivals, McCoy's holiday spirit starts to run a little dry.

"You don't want to leave with a bad taste in your mouth for the offseason, and what better way to leave on a high note than to get three division wins," he said. "We don't want to give those guys the upper hand going into next season. It is the season of giving, but for us it's the season of spoiling. We've got an opportunity to do that and I'm just praying I get to be a part of it."

McCoy is hoping to overcome the bicep injury he suffered early in last Sunday's game in order to take part in that potential spoilage. Either way, it's clear that his idea of "spoiling" things for the three other NFC South teams has less to do with keeping any one particular team out of the playoffs and more to do with establishing the Bucs' own place in the division pecking order. After all, if the Buccaneers meet their goal of winning all three games, they will essentially cancel out any playoff spoilage.

Pictures from the Buccaneers' practice on Thursday.

They will also finish in fourth place, even with a season-capping win streak, because their potential win total tops out at seven. Those standings will cease to mean anything once 2018 begins, however, while the impact of a few head-to-head victories within the division would linger on.

The first of those three games, in particular, would give the team an emotional boost because the Buccaneers feel like they missed an opportunity to upset the Falcons in Atlanta just three weeks ago. Tampa Bay rallied from 21 points down to get to 27-20, and had the football inside Atlanta's red zone before a failed fourth-down attempt. The Falcons took the ensuing possession back in the other direction for a final touchdown and a slightly misleading 34-20 final.

"We definitely feel like we could have won that game," said defensive end Robert Ayers. "There were some opportunities that we let slip out of our hands. That's kind of been the case in a lot of games, but that definitely was a game we felt like we could have won. But we didn't, and now we're at home and we've got to come out, execute our game plan, be the more physical team and get a win."

The main reason the Buccaneers did not get that win in Atlanta was wide receiver Julio Jones, who went supernova with 12 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Jones had just one catch for nine yards on three targets in the first quarter, but the Falcons used that time to establish a strong rushing attack with Tevin Coleman. The Buccaneers want to avoid falling prey to that formula again on Monday night.

"We definitely have got to stop the run," said McCoy. "We can't let [Jones] do what he did last time. I didn't even realize how many yards he had until the next day. I was walking through the training room and they put it on TV, and I'm like, 'I didn't realize he did that.' We definitely can't let him have the day he had last time. We've got to get on them early and often, slow the run game down and have our eyes in the right place."

As for McCoy's aforementioned injury, which knocked him out for most of the Lions game and left him visibly emotional on the sideline, he had some reason for optimism. Bicep injuries ended each of his first two NFL seasons, requiring surgery both times, but this time he is simply rehabbing.

"Nobody likes going under the knife," said McCoy. "It's not fun. So that's definitely a blessing. I'm just going to keep rehabbing it and do my best. I would like to be [ready for Monday] but I don't know yet. Let's take it day by day and see what happens."

McCoy leads the team with 5.0 sacks and is in the league's top 10 with 22 quarterback hits. Given the Bucs' overall struggles in getting to the passer this season, losing those contributions would be a blow for the defense.

"I'm hoping he is going to be ready to play because we are a much better football team when he is out there," said Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. "We've got a better chance of having success when he is out there. He is a dominant football player and he is probably – with no disrespect to the other guys out there – he is probably our best player on defense and has played that way this year. We've got to take it and see how the week progresses and we will know what's going to happen on Monday Night."

With the game on Monday night, McCoy has one more day to heal. He did not practice on Thursday but the Bucs still have Friday and Saturday workouts to try to get him back on the field. Head Coach Dirk Koetter said that McCoy playing through the injury was a viable possibility.

"Gerald is doing everything he possibly can to play Monday night and he had a lot of tests done. He's had experience with bicep injuries in the past. They've told him that this is something that doesn't need to be surgically repaired at this time and that [he's] not going to make it worse by playing. But, it's a matter of, can he play at the level that he's used to playing at?"

In addition to McCoy, the Buccaneers' most impactful defender this season has been linebacker Lavonte David, who leads the team in tackles and has five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. David also did not practice on Thursday due to a hamstring injury. The Buccaneers' Week 15 injury report is fairly lengthy, with center Joe Hawley (illness) and guard J.R. Sweezy (shin) also not practicing on Thursday.

However, the secondary could be getting some late-season reinforcements. Safety T.J. Ward, who has been in the NFL's concussion protocol since suffering the injury in the Week 12 game against Atlanta, returned to full participation in practice on Thursday. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and safety Josh Robinson are trying to return from hamstring injuries that have kept them out for four and two games, respectively, and both practiced on a limited basis on Thursday.

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