The Tampa Bay Buccaneers returned home from Seattle early Monday morning after absorbing a 40-34 overtime loss to the Seahawks. On Monday afternoon, Head Coach Bruce Arians took to the podium to further discuss that contest and to look ahead to the coming week. One positive note from Arians' press conference: starting tight end O.J. Howard looks like he'll be able to return to action in Week 10. Here are some of the other topics on which Arians touched:
1. Five road trips in six weeks might have finally taken a toll.
The Buccaneers believe they prepared as well as possible for their unusual run of road trips, which included four away games and one contest in London that was technically a home game, turning to their sports science staff for strategies to limit the wear and fatigue on players. Overall, the plan was a success and nobody is blaming the current four-game losing streak on the schedule.
Still, some affects from all that travel, which covered more than 20,000 miles in a six-week span, were probably inevitable. Arians thinks he saw it in the rash of injuries the Bucs suffered on Sunday in Seattle. Cornerback Carlton Davis sustained a hip injury in warmups while outside linebackers Carl Nassib and Anthony Nelson were lost before halftime to groin and hamstring issues, respectively.
"I think the injuries – when you start having those pulled muscles in games and pregame – the travel finally caught up with us a little bit," said Arians.
Arians said it was still too early to know if any of those injuries would linger into next Sunday's game, and that more information would come from a round of MRI examinations on Monday. The Bucs would have to adjust to the potential absence of Nassib and/or Nelson, because that represents half of the depth chart at outside linebacker. That certainly made things difficult in the second half on Sunday, as Shaq Barret and Jason Pierre-Paul essentially never left the field. Barrett played all but one defensive snap in the game and Pierre-Paul only missed three.
"We had to get pressure," said Arians. "When you get up into the 70s as a pass rusher, that's a lot of snaps and [we] tried to create some pressure other ways. But yeah, it hurts. We're not going to dress more than four normally anyway, but when guys go down in the same position, like tight end and outside linebacker, it's tough."
2. RoJo's first start will likely lead to more.
Second-year running back Ronald Jones made the first start of his NFL career on Sunday, ending a streak of 26 straight starts in the Bucs' backfield by Peyton Barber. Barber didn't play until the Bucs' fourth offensive series, and by game's end Jones had logged 42 snaps to 11 for Barber.
Jones took advantage of the opportunity, with 82 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. He showed off a series of quick cuts while posting three runs of 10 or more yards. Given that production, it would be no surprise to see Jones hold onto the starting job moving forward.
"I think he handled it really well," said Arians of Jones. "He's been consistent [and] he's been more explosive. It's not that Peyton did anything wrong. I think RoJo has earned the right to play a little bit more and start the ballgame."
3. The Bucs' rookie corners were busy Sunday, and it was a good learning experience.
Two weeks ago, the Buccaneers made a subtle shift in their secondary lineup, putting Vernon Hargreaves into a dual role in which he moves inside in the nickel package and giving the outside snaps in that situation to rookie Sean Murphy-Bunting. That was likely the plan again in Seattle after the secondary showed improved coverage in Tennessee, but that plan changed when Davis suffered his pregame injury.
That meant a lot more work for the Bucs' other rookie cornerback, Jamel Dean, particularly because the Seahawks ran mostly 11 personnel, putting the defense into sub packages on most snaps. Murphy-Bunting played every snap of the game, while Hargreaves only missed two. Seeing his first extended action on defense, Dean logged 58 of a possible 75 snaps and finished with five tackles and four passes defensed.
"I think Sean Murphy-Bunting played really well – maybe the best of anybody in the secondary," said Arians. "Jamel [Dean] got thrown in there. He won some, he lost some – just technique stuff down in the red zone. He had a tough matchup, but I think he's a guy that's got enough confidence that he'll bounce right back. I think he's going to have a hell of a career in front of him. Losing Carlton pregame hurt, but he jumped out there and held his own for a while."
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns and won the game in overtime with a touchdown drive that kept Jameis Winston and Mike Evans off the field. The Bucs' young secondary obviously had its ups and downs but players like Murphy-Bunting and Dean are expected to be a big part of that unit's future, so they need to be exposed to challenges at some point. They certainly got one from Wilson on Sunday.