Buccaneers face Falcons while pushing for NFC’s top seed
The calendar has flipped to December, which means one thing to Leonard Fournette and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“We know what’s at stake,” he said. “Coach BA (Bruce Arians) tells us every day in the meetings in the morning what we’re playing for. Just coming out knowing that each individual plays a part on this team and that will make us whole — to come out and do our job.”
No Tampa Bay player did his job better last week than Fournette. He rushed for 100 yards and scored four touchdowns, including the game-winner in a 38-31 decision over Indianapolis that strengthened the Bucs’ hold on the NFC South.
The Buccaneers aim to improve their seeding for the playoffs Sunday when they visit division rival and playoff hopeful Atlanta.
At 8-3, Tampa Bay is three games clear of the Falcons and New Orleans, so a division title seems inevitable. But the Bucs would still like to catch 9-2 Arizona and 9-3 Green Bay for the top seed so that they could stay at home and get a first-round bye.
“The expectations for us are to go out there and win the division,” said defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. “That’s the first step, especially getting into the playoffs. You do that and take care of business — you know that you’re going to be at home for your first playoff game and go from there.”
Tampa Bay didn’t need home field to win the NFC last year, taking road victories over Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay before it became the first home team to win a Super Bowl by routing Kansas City.
While precisely no one believes Atlanta (5-6) is the team to dethrone the Buccaneers, the Falcons are in the picture going into Week 13, which no one would have forecast in August. The Falcons would actually be in the playoffs if they started now had they not surrendered a late lead earlier this year against Washington, which presently holds the final spot.
As it is, Atlanta put itself in better position last week with a 21-14 win at Jacksonville, getting 108 yards and two touchdowns on the ground from Cordarrelle Patterson plus 190 yards and a score in the air from Matt Ryan.
Few players in the league are having a better all-around season than Patterson. The veteran receiver has become the Falcons’ leading rusher with 411 yards and their second-leading receiver with 41 catches for 500 yards.
The continued absence of receiver Calvin Ridley, who has played only five games this year while dealing with a personal matter, has hampered Ryan. He’s checked in at under 200 yards in four of the last five games with just four touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“It’s part of sports,” Ryan said. “You miss, but you can’t let it linger. You get back to work and have a great week of practice, and that’s what I’m focused on right now.”
Ryan threw for 300 yards in Week 2 at Tampa Bay, but also tossed two fourth-quarter pick-sixes to Mike Edwards that capped the Buccaneers’ 48-25 win. Tom Brady accounted for five touchdowns and 276 yards in the air for Tampa Bay.
–Field Level Media