Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC South Roundup, Week Two

Atlanta must move on after a season-ending injury to one of its top players, while the Saints and Panthers are reacting with confidence after opening-day losses

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A quick look at the news being generated at training camps around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers division:

The Buccaneers and Falcons were the two teams to celebrate victories on opening day, while Carolina left Tampa with an 0-1 record and the Saints dropped their first home game since the Bucs visited at the end of the 2010 season.  The Falcons' victory was tempered somewhat by the loss of cornerback Brent Grimes to an Achilles injury; on the other hand, the Panthers took several good things out of their loss in Tampa, including the health and strong play of linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.

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In Atlanta, the Falcons are adjusting to a significant injury in much the same way the Buccaneers are moving on after the loss of Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph.  Grimes went to the Pro Bowl in 2010 but he won't be making a return trip this year thanks to an Achilles tendon injury that will send him to injured reserve.  That news put a bit of a damper on the excitement over Atlanta's high-powered 40-24 win over Kansas City on Sunday, but the Falcons are moving on with much the same attitude the Bucs adopted with the loss of Joseph.  "Since he's been here, [Grimes] has been a cornerstone at the corner position, both left and right," said Head Coach Mike Smith.  "It's the next-man-up mentality, and that's how you have to approach it.  We've got a number of guys that have play time on our roster right now, and it's something we'll, as a coaching staff, put together what we feel like is the best plan in terms of how we'll configure our nickel package."  Smith starts with the nickel-package concern because it seems obvious that long-time Eagle and Patriot Asante Samuel, who came over to the Falcons in an offseason trade, will step up into the starting lineup alongside Dunta Robinson.  Samuel had been playing nickel back (he started in a three-CB package on Sunday and had three tackles and a pass defensed), so the Falcons will need another corner to step up into that rotation.  Fourth-year man Chris Owens, who has 11 starts and three interceptions over his first three seasons, is the leading candidate, and the Falcons have also re-signed Dominique Franks, who was cut in the roster reductions before the regular season.  Franks started four games last year and picked off two passes.

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In Carolina, the Panthers are speaking confidently despite their season-opening loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday.  Head Coach Ron Rivera pointed to problems on the offensive line that led to three Tampa Bay sacks and kept dangerous runner Cam Newton contained all day.  "More than anything else, we had a couple of one-on-ones that we flat-out lost," said Rivera.  "The encouraging part is that can be corrected.  It wasn't anything schematically or something lacking in an individual; it was a player here, a player there and something that they did.  I'm comfortable that we'll be able to correct and improve and get better."  The Panthers were also encouraged to finish the game with no significant injuries, and they hope to get running back Jonathan Stewart back for Week Two after he sat out the game in Tampa due to an ankle ailment.  Among the healthy are key linebackers Beason and Davis, both of whom are returning to action after missing almost all of the 2011 campaign with Achilles and knee injuries, respectively.  With rookie Luke Kuechly in the mix, as well, the Panthers have a much different look at linebacker this year, one that Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano referred to as extremely physical on Monday.  It was Beason and Davis who combined to stop Bucs RB Doug Martin on a second-and-goal run right at the goal line in the fourth quarter on Sunday.  "It was an amazing feeling to be back on the field today," said Davis, who has now returned from three major knee injuries.  "I'm extremely thankful to the organization for giving me an opportunity.  I was able to go out and play without worrying about it."

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In New Orleans, the Saints were the first NFL opponent to get a full 60-minute taste of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, and Griffin looked like he could be this year's version of 2011 sensation Cam Newton.  Washington left the Superdome with a 40-32 victory in Griffin's debut, though the Saints and their own prolific offense rallied to make it close.  Like Rivera, Saints acting Head Coach Aaron Kromer wasn't worried about what the loss meant to his team's playoff hopes, though he did acknowledge that it put added emphasis on next Sunday's game in Carolina.  "We need to win this game this week," he said.  "it's important to our program.  It's important to our psyche.  Is it a win-or-lose-this-season game?  No, it isn't.  There are 16 games.  The New York football Giants were 9-7 in the regular season and won the Super Bowl."  There is obviously some concern about the readiness of recently-reinstated linebacker Jonathan Vilma to play, as the team placed him on the reserve/physically unable to perform list on Monday.  Vilma, who was going to sit out the season on a league suspension based on the "bounty" investigation, became eligible to play before the opener but will now miss at least six weeks while he continues his rehabilitation from a knee injury.  The Saints gave up 464 total yards to Griffin and the 'Skins on Sunday, so are obviously looking for whatever boost they can get on defense, but Vilma now won't be available until close to midseason.

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