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Drug violation led to the benching of Bucs’ back Doug Martin

The unexplained benching of Tampa Bay Bucs running back Doug Martin cleared up Wednesday afternoon.

Martin announced he is serving a four-game suspension for performing enhancing drugs.

“I was notified last week of a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy,” Martin said in a statement. “My initial instinct was to appeal the suspension and finish the season with my teammates. However, after numerous discussions with people close to me – including Coach (Dirk) Koetter – I am starting the suspension immediately so I can enter a treatment facility and receive the help I truly need.

 “On the field, I must be strong and determined to push through both pain and injuries to become an elite NFL running back. Off the field, I have tried that same approach in my personal life. My shortcomings in this area have taught me both that I cannot win these personal battles alone and that there is no shame in asking for help.

 “I sincerely apologize to the Glazer family, General Manager Jason Licht and the entire Tampa Bay organization, my teammates and our tremendous fans. This was not the season I envisioned and I have let everyone down, including myself. However, adversity yields opportunity and I ask for your support in my battle to overcome these personal issues.”

 General manager Licht, also in a statement, said his team supports Martin, although his suspension happened at a time the Bucs were pushing toward the playoffs.

“Doug has been a valued member of our organization for the past five seasons and we respect and support his decision to seek help,” Licht said. “Right now, he is working through issues that are much larger than the game of football. Our primary concern is that he takes this time to focus on getting the help that he needs in order to move forward with his personal and professional life.”

The Bucs still have a small playoff hope, but in all probability will end their season Sunday.

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Bucs’ winning streak stopped in Dallas by Cowboys’ rookies

Maybe they simply aren’t ready yet. Maybe that explains it.

Maybe it was all of those turnovers (three interceptions, a fumble and a random head-butt by quarterback Jameis Winston.)

Maybe it was that the defense wasn’t as sharp as it has been, giving up hugh games to the Cowboys’ star rookies. They surrendered 279 yards passing to Dak Prescott and 153 yards rushing to Zeke Elliott.

Maybe the Bucs aren’t good enough for a six-game winning streak. Maybe it was missed tackles. Maybe it was a horrid running game. Maybe it was wasted opportunities.

“It would be somewhat understandable  to a game of this magnitude in this stage,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “There’s a lot of young guys out there who haven’t been in a game of this magnitude before.  Like I said, this will serve us well down the road.  It hurts a lot tonight.”

Whatever the reason, the Tampa Bay Bucs finally lost again Sunday night. They fell 26-20 to the Dallas Cowboys, a defeat that put their playoffs hopes in jeopardy. The Bucs are now 8-6, one game behind Atlanta in the NFC South and barely out of the wild card position. Games in New Orleans next week and against Carolina at home in two weeks could change things.

The Bucs started sluggishly, falling behind 17-6. Winston threw two touchdown passes, however, to give Tampa Bay a 20-17 lead in the third quarter. Dan Bailey kicked three field goals in the fourth period, however, to wrap up the win.

“We saw the streaky side a little bit of Jameis,” Koetter said. ” He got off to a slow start. Even though we got a  good drive and got that early lead, against a team like this, you can’t kick field goals and expect to win.  You look at the stats at the end and we’re 1-for-3 in the red zone.  Those other eight points would have helped us.  The second one was that penalty that you mentioned earlier.  That’s been hurting us the last few weeks and it caught up to us tonight.”

The Bucs struggled to run the ball, as Doug Martin gained only 42 yards on 16 carries.

Despite it all, Tampa Bay had the ball five times — twice in the final minutes — with a chance to win. It was stopped an all possessions, however.

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Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston settles with woman accuser

Tampa Bay Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston can just worry about the playoffs.

If anything else was on Winston’s mind, he put it to rest Thursday when he and accuser Erica Kinsman have reached a settlement in her lawsuit.

John Clune, a lawyer for the woman, Erica Kinsman, on Wednesday night confirmed a report first published by TMZ Sports, saying, “The case has been resolved to the satisfaction of the parties.”

Kinsman, who said she was raped by Winston when the two were at Florida State, reached an undisclosed settlement in her case. Kinsman had been awarded $950,000 in a suit against Florida State regarding the handling of the allegations.

Winston has never been charged criminally in the case. FSU’s code-of-conduct hearing also found no wrongdoing.

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Tampa Bay wins fifth straight game to remain in playoff search

Keith Tandy recognized the formation. It was the one that the Bucs kept trying to run, and failing, during their week of practice.

Still, Tandy had a clue, which is why he broke on the play and grabbed a game-winning interception from Drew Brees Sunday afternoon. It led to the Bucs’ fifth straight win, a 16-11 victory over New Orleans. It was also the second straight week that Tandy had the game-cinching interception.

“Right now, we’re confident,” Tandy said. “And a confident bunch is a dangerous bunch.”

The Bucs remain tied for first with an 8-5 record in the NFC South. The playoffs are possible with a strong finish

Tampa Bay didn’t have staggering offensive stats. Quarterback Jameis Winston threw for only 184 yards, and running back Doug Martin ran for only 66 and receiver Mike Evans caught four passes for 42 yards.

Ah, but the defense played well again. New Orleans had 10 possessions, and they ended with four punts, three field goals and three interceptions. It was the first time the Bucs have ever held Drew Brees without a touchdown pass.

Over the last five weeks, the Bucs have given up only 64 points, less than 13 points per game.

“Who says they don’t play defense in Tampa Bay,” said coach Dirk Koetter. “I would never have guessed both teams would have been under 300 yards. It’s great to see. Some of these guys on defense have been beat up for a few years.”

The Bucs are at Dallas next Sunday night.

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Bucs hope to move Brees out of the way of their playoff dreams

No quarterback has beaten the Tampa Bay Bucs as much as Drew Brees.

Now, he has a chance to do it two times in three weeks in an effort to derail the team’s playoff hopes.

Brees, the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, is 14-7 against the Bucs and has won eight of the last nine meetings.

Lifetime, he has a 96.1 rating against Tampa Bay.

“Me and Drew (Brees) have a little personal rivalry because we train together, so we always do little competitions while we’re training and stuff,” said Bucs’ defensive lineman Gerald McCoy. “So when you get in-season to your true profession, it’s really like – me being a D-lineman, him being a quarterback, it’s always fun. I’ve got the utmost respect for him. Him being one of the best, year-in and year-out, that’s why he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Everything runs through him. If we have any shot of winning, we’ve got to disrupt him. There’s no stopping Drew Brees. People have proven that.”

The key, said McCoy, was to get into Brees’ face.

“Drew is not the biggest guy, so he’s got those big linemen in front of him,” McCoy said. “You don’t always have to hit Drew, you don’t always have to sack him. If you get those big guys in his face – if you notice, a lot of times he makes those throws downfield, he’s looking up. You get those big guys, get that pressure up the middle, it disrupts him. But it doesn’t matter man. You can’t stop him, I’m just going to say that. You can’t stop him, but you can try and disrupt him enough to limit the amount of time they’re on the field.”

Bucs’ defensive coordinator Mike Smith says playing against Brees is always a challenge.

“He’s a tough out, there’s no doubt about it. The thing that Drew has got is a very good understanding of how people play defense,” said Smith. “(I have) not been around him, but I’ve tried to find out as much as I can. He spends a lot of time studying film, he knows what you’re going to be in, so this is a lot like last week. When you play these good quarterbacks, you’ve got to try to not tell them what you’re doing pre-snap. And he’s probably one of the toughest outs in all the league. Their numbers are just unbelievable right now, in terms of what they’re doing offensively. It’s going to be very important for us, we know that they’re going to get their completions. We’ve got to make sure that when the opportunity comes that we win it down here and we win it down there. They’re completing 70 percent of their passes, they’re very good in the red zone, so don’t want to give up explosive plays and when we get down in the red zone, we’ve got to either turn the ball over, or force them to kick a field goal.”

 “It becomes a match of what you’re doing and what they’re trying to get done. I think Drew does a very good job – he’s one of the few quarterbacks that still, he calls the fronts out, he does the points, he’s calling the protections, he’s getting them into the right protections, does a lot with hand signals. So they’re a lot like a lot of these really good offenses, they want to be in their best play possible and it’s going to be very important for us to give him a different look than what he’s seen because they’ve scouted us over the last five or six weeks and they know what we’ve done. So it’s going to be important for us to give him some different looks.

Bucs’ head coach Dirk Koetter said it was Brees’ accuracy that set him apart.

“His accuracy on downfield throws – there’s teams in this league that are based more around quick game. We’re not really like that, we’re more of a vertical passing team, as are the Saints. And in the vertical passing game, the seam throws, the whole-shot throws against two-deep, back-shoulder throws, those are a much bigger part of it and that to me is where he’s second to none, in that area.”

The Bucs play the Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James.

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Bucs need help from their receivers down the depth chart

In the war of attrition that is the NFL, the Tampa Bay Bucs are trying to fix what’s broken while their team is on the move.

In particular, the Bucs have trying to find wide receivers after injuries cut their available players to three last week.

Tampa Bay has brought up Josh Huff, a former third-round pick of the Eagles out of Oregon, from the practice squad to help to fill in. Huff has made progress since joining the Bucs’ practice squad three weeks ago.

“We’re going to find out, aren’t we?” said offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “It looked like a few weeks ago we might be able to get him up and he had a little bit of a setback. But we’re excited and we’re going to find out this week what recall he’s had. When you’re on the practice squad, most of the reps you’re getting is for your opposing offense against your defense, so we’re going to find out what kind of recall he’s had. We’ve got to do a great job this week of getting him up to speed.”

Speed is one thing that Huff seems to have.

“Josh Huff man, he’s blazing (fast),” said Jameis Winston. “(He) has a lot of abilities that would definitely add to our repertoire. We really are excited to have him up on the 53-man active roster and to see what he’s going to do on game day.”

 A week ago, backups Russell Sheppard and Freddie Martino saw increased playing time.

“There’s a difference between a play every now and then and an expanded role,” Monken said. “We found that out last week with some of the other players. They’re all capable, it’s just a matter of – it’s one thing to know an assignment, it’s another split, detail and then going against the best in the world and giving yourself a chance to be successful.”

Monken said Sheppard and Martino performed well a week ago.

“They’ve done fine,” Monken said. “I’ve said it all along, those guys have talent, or they wouldn’t be on an NFL roster. Now it’s a matter of their confidence, keep working at their skillset, keep developing it and then getting an opportunity. And Mike [Evans] garners a lot of attention, so those guys are going to get one-on-one match-ups a lot more than they would normally. Mike’s got to handle the frustration of that and those guys have got to be able to step up when they get their one-on-one opportunities.”

The Bucs play New Orleans at 1 p.m. Sunday.

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Now, more than ever, the Bucs are Jameis Winston’s football team

The defense is playing better. More receivers are getting open. The safeties have been very good. Punter Ryan Anger has been special.

But for the Tampa Bay Bucs, the key is still quarterback Jameis Winston.

“When Jameis takes care of the football, we’re tough,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter Wednesday. “We’ve got to take care of the football, that’s everybody. The main thing that we’re doing better in the last few weeks is we’re getting turnovers and we’re not turning it over as much, we’re in the positive.

“I think our defense is all the way up to number three in the league in takeaways. We’ve still given it away. We could’ve put that Seattle game away if we don’t turn it over twice in the fourth quarter. They were ready to topple over for us if we could’ve just finished. So Jameis, that’s something that to be a championship quarterback in this league, you’ve got to take great care of the ball.”

 Koetter said the Bucs have communicated better in their current three-game winning streak, including back-to-back upsets of the Chiefs and the Seahawks.

“That was the number one thing we talked about in the little mini-bye coming out of the Thursday night game is that we had too many times when the offense would be at the line of scrimmage and guys were palms up,” Koetter said. “What do I do? And you can’t have, can’t be like that. They’ve got to be looking at the formation, playing their keys, knowing the tendencies by formation and we have done a way, way, way better job the last few weeks. And then like anything else, success and confidence seem to go together. It’s funny how that works and our D’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. But your confidence can be shaken quickly when you start watching San Diego’s offense on tape because they’ve got weapons, they’ve got a quarterback, they move the ball on everybody.”

The Bucs scored twice in the first quarter, then didn’t score again. They did have a touchdown called back and missed a field goal.

“Well, it’s not a challenge, it’s the truth, it’s just the truth,” Koetter said. “We reviewed the game – part of coming off a victory Monday is on Wednesday, we spend our first hour and a half or so reviewing the last game and we put up our goal charts and our drive charts and our penalty reports from the last game. The numbers always tell the story and yeah, I’m still disappointed. I’m disappointed in myself, I’ve got to get us in better plays and we take a lot of pride in that. Those first two drives were exceptional and then as I said earlier, we had chances to put that game away and thank God our defense played lights out, or we’d all be a lot sadder today. At least I’d be sadder, you guys might not be, but I’d be a lot sadder.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said the Bucs caused most of their problems.

“Well, we just self-inflicted,” Monken said. “Our defense played great. It’s very difficult to not score after the first quarter and still win. But we had an opportunity, missed a field goal. Had an opportunity before the half, didn’t get an opportunity for a field goal. We had another opportunity and we fumbled, we had another opportunity and we threw an interception. So, the opportunities were there. Similar to the week before, we had a number of opportunities. We’ve got to continue to do the things that we’re doing well, but figure out a way to score touchdowns and finish drives and not turn it over.”

 Winston said he was just sticking to familiar mantra of constant improvement.

“I think I’m just sticking to my goal and it’s simple and that’s just getting better every single day,” Winston said.  (Quarterbacks) Coach (Mike) Bajakian and Coach Koetter do a great job of just the type of drills that we’re doing in individual, the amount of work, the amount of reps that we get to just work on our technique stuff. And it’s worked. Coach Bajakian is a hard worker and he stays on me about rhythm and accuracy, rhythm and precision, two hands in the pocket, and it’s worked.”

The Buc are at San Diego at 4:05 p.m.

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Bucs’ Roberto Aguayo finally living up to his draft expectations

Don’t look now — or maybe risk one eye — but THIS is the field goal kicker the Bucs thought enough of to draft in the second round.

Maybe it’s hard for you to admit it, but Roberto Aguayo is on a hot streak. Yeah, yeah, early in the season, it was fashionable to doubt Aguayo, the rookie from Florida State. But Aguayo hit four field goals Sunday in a 19-17 victory over Kansas City, and the Bucs needed them all.

In fact, if you go back to the night of Oct. 10, when Aguayo lined up for the winning field goal against Carolina, he has hit 10 of 11 field goals and 13 of 14 extra points.

“I think (it was) just mostly between his ears,” said coach Dirk Koetter in Monday’s day-after press conference. “I think he got shaken, confidence-wise, a little bit there with some misses. That’s one thing about the NFL, is you hear about it from all sides. You hear about it from the coaches, from the fans, from the media, of course, you get hammered.

“For a young guy, that can rattle your bones a little bit and I think he just went back to the basics, worked on his routine, really cleaned up his mental approach. I think he was a little bit all over the place with how he was approaching his kicks, to use a golf term, what his ‘swing thought’ was or thoughts, maybe having too many. He seems to be hitting the ball much better now and was clutch yesterday.”

It isn’t just Aguayo who is playing better. Safety Chris Conte has had back-to-back solid weeks. Rookie lineman Caleb Benenoch has survived. Backup cornerback Alterann Verner played well Sunday.

“There’s no rule that even the best in the world can’t get better,” Koetter said. “There’s something to be said for player development and it starts with the guys wanting to get better and working at it. I’ve definitely been on teams where guys wouldn’t do that and then the fact that the coaches are working with them, pushing them, driving them.”

The Bucs are 5-5, but they face a stiff test Sunday when Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks come to town.

In particular, Koetter praised Conte.

“I think that’s part of it. He’s being asked to do a lot more. He’s being asked to, in the two-deep scheme — and we weren’t in two-deep every play, sometimes people make it seem like we were in two-deep every play, we weren’t. But, we’re not in two-deep hardly at all right now and in the quarter scheme and in the three-deep scheme, those down safeties, they’ve got to make tackles. And it’s physical, you’re playing against 230-pound running backs with a full head of steam when they get to you as a safety. So, Chris tackled a lot better yesterday, he did make the single biggest play of the game on that interception.

“That was a play that we’ve been burned on more the once — the hard run fake, the little glancing post in behind the safety. And I think [defensive tackle] Gerald [McCoy] got a finger on it, it was a nice catch by Chris and then a quick transition. Got two really nice blocks, [linebacker] Kwon [Alexander] got out in front as did [defensive end] Will Gholston. That was a minimum 10, maybe 14-point turnaround right there.”

Sunday’s game time is 4:05 p.m.

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Bucs edge Kansas City behind Chris Conte’s big interception

For most of the season, he has been a target. If not of opposing quarterbacks, then of his team’s own fans.

Chris Conte has played too much chase, critics will tell you. He needs to be replaced.

But Conte made the play of the game Sunday, as the Tampa Bay Bucs upset the Kansas City Chiefs 19-17. With the Chiefs on the verge of taking a lead in the fourth quarter, Conte stepped in front of Chiefs’ receiver Chris Conley, intercepted the pass and returned it 53 yards. The Bucs then converted the winning drive to end a 10-game home winning streak by Kansas City.

“I was just doing my job,” Conte said. “We’re getting better every week.”

The Bucs had several good performances in their victory. Maligned kicker Roberto Aguayo kicked four field goals, and now has hit 10 of his last 11. Quarterback Jameis Winston was terrific again, throwing for 331 yards. Receiver Mike Evans caught six passes for 105 yards. And the Bucs evened their record at 5-5.

“Today, we were a good football team,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter.

The Bucs preserved their win with a late drive that ate up most of the clock. Taking over with 2:37 to play, Tampa Bay gave the ball back with only eight seconds to play. The key play was a third-and-three at their own 30, when Winston hit Evans for 14 yards. That allowed the Bucs to run 2:03 off of the clock.

Tampa Bay is home next week against Seattle.

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Bucs’ Mike Evans sits over Donald Trump’s election despite not voting

Tampa Bay Bucs’ wide receiver Mike Evans will not stand for Donald Trump‘s presidency.

Evans, the Bucs’ starting receiver, sat during the national anthem on Sunday. He said later the reason was Trump’s election.

“I’m not a big fan of politics or anything like that,” Evans said. “But I told myself, ‘If this happens, America is not right, right now. When he ran, I thought it was a joke. The joke continues.”

Evans admitted he did not vote.

Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter was concerned about how Evans’ decision might affect the team.

“I hope it doesn’t affect our team and that’s something that I’ll take whatever measures necessary that I think are necessary to try to minimize what effect it has on our team,” Koetter said. “I’m really not sure. This is uncharted water for me and I’m not sure about any of that.”

Earlier in the season, Koetter had this to say about protests:

“We, believe it or not, have practiced how to line up for the national anthem, we’ve worked on it,” Koetter said at the time. “I don’t know if our organization has the right to tell a guy that he needs to do that. I would be disappointed if any of our players didn’t stand up for the national anthem, personally. I look at that as a salute to the people who have paved the way for us, but at the same time this is a free country and I think freedom of speech is something that we all believe in, and freedom of expression. That’s an individual’s choice, that’s a fine line there. I would personally be disappointed, but I think it would be hard to enforce that rule.’

Evans said his protest differs from that of Colin Kaepernick, who is against the treatment of racial minorities.

Sunday, the Bucs had a “Salute to Service” day, which honors members of the military.

“I don’t want to disrespect the veterans or anything,” Evans said. “The men and women who served this country — I’m forever indebted to them. But the things that have been going on in America lately, I’m not going to stand for that.

“It’s not about the Republican Party or the Democratic Party or anything like that,” Evans said. “It’s just who he is. It’s well documented what he’s done. I’m not going to stand for something I don’t believe in.”

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