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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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Bucs’ quarterback Jameis Winston leads huge victory over Chicago

You may debate where you think Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston is among NFL quarterbacks.

It’s pretty clear, however, that he’s better than Chicago’s Jay Cutler.

Winston had one of his better games Sunday in a 36-10 victory over Chicago, and Cutler had one of his worst. Winston threw for 312 yards, completing 19 passes to players other than Mike Evans. Cutler, on the other hand, threw two interceptions, had two fumbles and took four sacks, including a safety.

The Bucs improved to 4-5, winning at home for the first time all season. It was only their fourth home win in their last 24 games.

Want to know the play that defines Cutler? The Bears had third-and-goal from the Bucs four. Cutler tried to scramble and was sacked from behind and fumbled. Or how about the pick-six he threw to Bucs’ safety Chris Conti.

Want to know the play that defines Winston? He faced a third-and-10 at the 38 when he found no one downfield. So he scrambled to his left, reversed his field, ran threw his own end zone, turned upfield and launched a deep pass from his own 8-yard line. Evans caught it 39 yards past the line of scrimmage.

“Throw it away!” coach Dirk Koetter said he was thinking. “Throw it away! Get down! Do anything. Don’t take a safety. The thing about James, Jameis is going to do some things to make some plays because that’s who he is. You can’t coach that out of him. He’s a special player that I respect.”

It was the first time in his career that Winston had a rating of more than 100 and threw for more 300 yards in the same game.

Tampa Bay will try to get an upset win against Kansas City next week to get back to .500.

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Tampa Bay Bucs’ defense riddled in lopsided loss to Atlanta

Last year, it was Lovie.

This year, it is Mike.

And for the Tampa Bay Bucs, the result has been the same old Smith. Once again, the Bucs’ defense let them down Thursday night in a 43-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that really wasn’t that close.

In a matter of days, the Bucs have given up 1,087 yards, 58 first downs and 73 points in back-to-back losses to the Raiders and Falcons. Tampa Bay beat Atlanta, 31-24, in the season opener. But Sunday’s result suggests how well the Falcons are playing and how poorly the Bucs are.

In two weeks, for instance, the Bucs have allowed 63 completions in 93 attempts with no interceptions.

“We’re 3-5,” Koetter said. “That’s where we’re at. We’re 3-5 at the halfway point and that’s what we’ve earned. That’s what we talked about in the locker room. We’ve got half the season left. I’ve got to figure out a way to make this team play up to their potential. Because I don’t like we are right now. That’s 100 percent on me.”

The Bucs were close for a half, trailing only 20-14 at the break. But the Falcons pulled ahead 33-14 going into the final quarter.

Quarterback Jameis Winston left the game limping with a knee injury. He swore he was healthy, and as he left the interview room, broke into an impromptu dance to prove that his leg was fine.

There wasn’t much else for the Bucs to take pride in. Winston threw for 261 yards, and Mike Evans caught 11 passes for 150 yards and two scores. The Bucs, however, rushed for only 73 yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry.

The Bucs are home against Chicago a week from Sunday.

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Raiders’ penalties don’t help hapless Bucs in overtime

For a moment, the Tampa Bay Bucs had hope. For a moment, they had opportunity.

Neither of them lasted.

It was overtime, and the Bucs had just taken over on a missed field goal. They were at their own 42, a couple of first downs from a field goal try that would potentially win the game.

And they went nowhere.

On first down, Jameis Winston threw long, as he tried throughout the game. Incomplete. On second down, he threw for five yards to Mike Evans. On third down he threw incomplete. And punt.

It was the best opportunity the Bucs had of stealing one against Oakland all afternoon. If someone had made a play, then perhaps the Bucs could have avoided the 30-24 overtime loss they suffered against the Raiders. It would have allowed the team to forget the 626 yards they surrendered. It would have made Derek Carr’s 513-yard passing day a footnote.

But when it counted, the Bucs could not make a play. They lost to a Raiders’ team that had an NFL record 23 penalties for 200 yards.

“They were trying to give us the game, man,” tackle Demar Dotson said. “They were handing us the game with those missed field goals and all of those penalties, and we didn’t take it, man. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. That’s a good football team, and to have so many penalties, they were trying to say, ‘Hey, Bucs … here’s the football game.’ We didn’t capitalize on that. When we needed to the most we didn’t capitalize.”

The Bucs led 10-3 early, then fell behind 17-10. They took a 24-17 lead in the fourth, but a lack of a pass rush led the Raiders to win. Oakland had 84 plays and kept the ball more than 40 minutes.

Winston had 180 yards and two touchdowns for the Bucs.

“I’ve got to help him,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “I’ve got to call it better. I’ve got to find a way to get us in. I’ve got to do better.”

The Bucs play Atlanta in a home game on Thursday night.

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Raiders’ receivers present huge challenge to Bucs’ cornerbacks

Think of it as a game within a game.

When the Oakland Raiders visit the Bucs on Sunday, there will be a lot of factors that determine the winner. One of them, however, will be the play of Raiders’ receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree against Tampa Bay corners Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes.

Cooper is tied for sixth in the NFL in receiving with 40 catches. Crabtree is tied for 11th with 39.

“Those two receivers, Cooper and Crabtree, are going to be a handful,” said Bucs’ defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “They’ve done a very good job. (Quarterback Derek) Carr is a quarterback that gets the ball out of his hands, he’s got a quick release. I think he does a very good job with his eyes moving the defender. It’s going to be a big challenge.”

In all, the Raiders are 13th in the NFL in passing.

The Bucs’ duo has played better lately as the team has won two games in a row.

“Both of those guys are starting to play with swagger,” Smith said. “I think Brent always has had it. He’s a little more soft spoken, but I know Brent knows what he’s capable of doing. And I think Vernon is finding his way, in terms of where he needs to line up, when he needs to line up there and I thought he did a really good job last week. Not only in the pass game, but he really did some nice things showing up in the run game as well.”

Smith thinks the Bucs are improving in their secondary.

“I think we’re improving,” Smith said. “I think we still have a long way to go. I like the learning curve that we’ve gone through, in terms of from Week One, in terms of giving up explosive passes and being where we’re supposed to be. I think that’s a sign of them having a better understanding of what they’re supposed to be doing and I think that’s also a sign  that they understand what they’re capable of doing. Again, I really think this is a process that we go through. Would I have liked to see it being accelerated? Yes, but I do feel like that these guys are starting to understand what we’re trying to accomplish on the defensive side of the ball, based on what offenses are presenting to us.”

Head coach Dirk Koetter said he thinks Hargreaves, the team’s No. 1 draft pick, especially is playing well.

“He’s gone against some pretty good guys so far this year, so there’s more to come,” Koetter said. “And he’s getting better every week, I think his confidence is growing. I think you’re going to see him play tighter and tighter.”

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Russell Shepard latest Buc to become an essential player for team

One of the highlights of the two-game winning streak of the Tampa Bay Bucs has been the emergence of unheralded players.

Over the past two games, the Bucs have had major impacts from Jacquizz Rodgers, from Davonte Lambert and from John Hughes.

And now, there is Russell Shepard.

Shepard, normally a special teams standout for the Bucs, found himself thrust into the playing rotation after the injury to Vincent Jackson. Shepard, who had only seven catches in his first three seasons, ended up with five receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.

“That’s real important and every week when I’m talking to the guys in one meeting or another, we’re talking about playing your role and then that your role is always changing,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “Roles change all the time, Russell Shepard’s role changed last week. He went from a six-play a game guy on offense to a 30 play a game guy on offense. I don’t think people appreciate role players.”

Koetter said that Shepard might be the most versatile player on the Bucs.

“That’s a strong case,” Koetter said. “He does a lot for us, he wears a lot of hats and if he had his way, he’s be wearing more hats. He’s asking for everything. He’d like to throw it, catch it, run with it, tackle it, kick it. But no, he’s a versatile guy. High school quarterback went to LSU there and Shep brings a certain presence to our locker room. He’s very vocal and guys that are vocal and can back it up with good play are always welcome in your locker room.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken praised Shepard, but he stopped short of calling him underrated.

“I don’t know about underrated,” Monken said. “This week I know he had a tremendous game for us and I’m happy for him, he’s worked awfully hard, he’s earned everything in this league. So for him to come up big with a number of plays, I’m happy for him – what that meant to him, what it meant to our team.

Quarterback Jameis Winston echoed Monken in stressing Shepard’s importance.

“He does so much for this team that people don’t see, like he’s our top special teams guy,” Winston said. “He even gets catches with the wide receiver all the time. He’s one of our main guys, period. He’s a hard worker, he has tremendous heart, he has tremendous passion and that’s one thing that you can say about Shep. He’s different and when you’re different, that makes you successful. He’s just a great player for us, he’s one of our main guys.”

Shepard said his willingness to do anything has helped him with the Bucs.

“I take pride in doing the dirty work,” Shepard said. “I take pride in doing the things that most receivers don’t usually do, or have to do. When you can do things like that and help the team…I’ve had a few different teammates throughout the years, a few different staffs, and they really like receivers that can get in there and do a little bit of the dirty work. You start adding in passes and things like that, that’s when you kind of get the ‘blowing-up’ thing.

The Bucs try to bring their record to above .500 when they host the Oakland Raiders Sunday.

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Patchwork defensive line playing well for Tampa Bay Bucs

They are not exactly the Fearsome Foursome, but the Tampa Bay Bucs are getting production from an under-appreciated defensive line.

The Bucs have had to patch and spackle lately, but they’ve still won two games in a row. During that time, defensive ends William Gholston and Noah Spence and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy have played well.

“I think Gerald gets a bad rap sometimes,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “People don’t appreciate what he brings to the table. Having coached against him, you’ve got to double team him or your guards are going to struggle to block him. Your center definitely can’t block him single. He can beat a double-team and when he does get singled he’s going to get penetration. He had a sack, caused a fumble – we didn’t get that fumble.

“I said Gerald was going to be on a pitch count, he played 64 plays, I think he took himself out one time. A lot of the players that come back after a three-week absence, they look a little rusty out there and we had a couple guys that were in that category. Gerald did not look rusty, he looked like he was right back in Pro Bowl form. Gerald is one of those unique players that makes the other guys around him better and we were very happy to have him back.”

Gholston had a sack Sunday against the 49ers, continuing his solid play all season.

“I think we said in one of these meetings that Will all of a sudden when Gerald and (defensive end Robert) Ayers were out, he said, ‘Hey, I’m the elder statesman here.’” Koetter said. “He’s put together three really good games in a row. He’s playing so hard. Will’s big, he’s strong, he’s long and he’s playing really hard right now. Those are his best assets, he’s relentless in his effort, he’s got really good stamina, he’s versatile, he moved around, he can play both sides, he can play inside. But the main thing is just how hard he’s playing.”

Spence, a No. 2 draft pick for the Bucs, started the season as a pass-rush specialist. Injuries have made him broaden his game.

“Noah played 47 snaps, got a sack there at the end. I would still say Noah – we’re happy with him,” Koetter said. “He entered the season as kind of a specialist, more of a pass rush specialist, but he’s having to play more [as an] every down defensive end because of our injuries. I think he’d still fit in the ‘learning’ category. He still makes some mistakes that a young player is apt to make, but he likes to play ball and he gives really good effort. And as long as he keeps learning and keeps improving, the future’s bright for him.”

The Bucs play the Raiders at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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