The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the team coming in to complicate matters in Week 17, and they already know their season is over after Sunday’s game. The Buccaneers can still play spoiler, however – if Arizona beats San Francisco at the same time the Bucs and Saints are playing, the Saints will need a win to make the dance.
For the Bucs, the motivation isn’t the playoffs, but the playoff atmosphere they will encounter in the Superdome. That helped keep them sharp on the practice field this past week.
“They were on point,” said Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano of his players’ efforts on the practice field this week. “At this point in the year, there’s not a ton of new stuff going in. You’ve got to guard against the ‘I got this’ mentality, because you’ve never got it. And I think our guys did a good job of preparing – mentally, emotionally and physically – and now we’ve got a real tough game to play here, but one that should be really exciting and a lot of fun to be part of.”
It was an unusual run of preparation for both teams, as Christmas fell on Wednesday, which is usually one of the most important practice days of the week. The Buccaneers switched their usual Wednesday work to Tuesday, gave the players off on Christmas Day (the coaches came in long enough to hash out the remainder of the game plan) and then went back to business as usual on Thursday.
“I thought it was good preparation,” said Schiano. “The guys were focused, and now it’s time to go play.”
“For us, it’s quite a bit different,” said Schiano. “We have 15 guys on injured reserve. We have four others that have been regular players that aren’t playing, so that’s really 19 guys that play a role on this team that are not going to be playing their roles today. So we are a quite different team. [The Saints] have had a few injuries but they’ve stayed relatively healthy, so good for them. We’re going to have a bunch of guys out there that are going to fight their guts out. Fortunately for us, we have some really fine players that are in uniform that are going to go out and help us find a way to win today.”
The latest losses to the Bucs’ lineup are starting strong safety Mark Barron and starting strongside linebacker Dekoda Watson. Barron will miss his second straight game with a hamstring strain and Watson will sit out after sustaining a groin injury last Sunday in St. Louis. Keith Tandy will make another start in Barron’s place while the versatile Adam Hayward will step in for Watson.
The Bucs will also be missing reserve linebacker Ka’Lial Glaud. While Glaud has played only a few snaps on defense since being promoted from the practice squad, he represents half of the team’s depth at that position. Tampa Bay will go into Sunday’s game with only one reserve linebacker,
“This is going to be a physical game so we have to be prepared,” he said. “We have four linebackers that are dressed today, and that’s what we’ve got.”
With the Bucs’ defense playing a little shorthanded against an offense that has averaged just under 33 points in seven games in the Superdome this season – all wins – it will be up to Tampa Bay’s offense to pitch in by holding onto the ball longer and keeping Drew Brees and company off the field. That’s what the Buccaneers did during the first half of a Week Nine game at Seattle; an early offensive onslaught helped the visiting team open a big lead and quiet the legendarily loud crowd at CenturyLink Stadium, though the Seahawks eventually came back to win in overtime. The Bucs would like the same sort of fast start on Sunday in front of a Superdome crowd that gets pretty raucous, as well.
“If you can move the ball and score points, that will quiet down the crowd,” said Schiano. “That’s the number-one thing you can do to quiet them down. But it’s going to be noisy. That’s part of our preparation. We’ve handled it throughout the season in different arenas and I don’t suspect it will be any different today. [Quarterback]
In addition to Barron, Glaud and Hayward, the Buccaneers declared the following players inactive: FB/RB
The Saints had no players out due to injury. They deactivated the following seven players: QB Ryan Griffin, CB Terrence Frederick, RB Travaris Cadet, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, LB Keyunta Dawson, WR Nick Toon and DE Tom Johnson.
The Buccaneers and Saints will kick off their Week 17 matchup at the Louisiana Superdome at 4:25 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised in the Bay area by Fox. The action will also be broadcast by the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will be available via a live stream on Buccaneers.com. Visit Buccaneers.com throughout the day to for further reports on the game action, including coverage of the team’s postgame press conferences.