Bucs’ blockers prepare for visit to Falcons
Lost in the shuffle of landing Tom Brady in the offseason was a big move that solidified the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive line.
On draft day, they traded up to the No. 13 overall pick and selected Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, then plugged him into the lineup at right tackle. Joining four incumbent starters, Wirfs has been everything Tampa Bay thought he would be — and more.
Ahead of a Week 15 trip to Atlanta, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said Wirfs deserves to earn a spot on the NFC’s Pro Bowl squad.
“He’s doing it week-in and week-out, so that’s kind of what I expect every week now,” Arians said. “That’s what we anticipated.”
Wirfs and his cohorts on the line may have to be a little bit better on Sunday. Ronald Jones, the fourth-leading rusher in the NFL with 900 yards, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. He was already considered questionable after undergoing surgery Tuesday to have pins placed in a fractured pinkie finger.
If Jones is sidelined, Arians said that Leonard Fournette will take over as the lead ballcarrier. The former Jacksonville Jaguar has rushed for 271 yards in part-time duty and also equaled Jones’ 28 receptions, tied for fourth on the team.
Tampa Bay (8-5) currently sits in sixth place in the NFC, which is good for a playoff spot, and is coming off a 26-14 victory last week at home against Minnesota. Tom Brady was efficient, going 15 of 23 for 196 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 30 in a season for the eighth time. Brady needs four more in the last three games to erase Jameis Winston’s one-year old club record of 33.
“It was a good win. We’re obviously going to need to just keep making progress,” Brady said.
While the Buccaneers are aiming to break a 13-year playoff drought, the second-longest drought in the NFL, Atlanta (4-9) is merely hoping to play the spoiler’s role in another lost season. The Falcons’ 20-17 loss last week at the Los Angeles Chargers clinched a third straight sub.-500 campaign.
Barring a season-ending three-game winning streak, Atlanta will fail to match its 7-9 record of the last two years. It figures to be a rocky offseason for the Falcons, who fired coach Dan Quinn after starting 0-5 and are 4-4 under interim coach Raheem Morris.
Atlanta led 17-10 at the half in Los Angeles, but quarterback Matt Ryan tossed three second half interceptions, including one in the last minute that teed the Chargers up for Michael Badgley’s 43-yard field goal as time expired.
To have a chance at the upset, the Falcons’ offensive line must keep Ryan upright. Tampa Bay has notched 40 sacks and Atlanta has allowed Ryan to go down 33 times. If Ryan has time and Julio Jones (hamstring) is able to return after sitting out last week, Jones and Calvin Ridley could feast on a secondary that has been vulnerable to big plays.
“We certainly got our hands full this week,” Ryan said. “They definitely are a high-pressure team. You’ve got to be prepared in every personnel grouping, every situation to account for extra rushers in the pass game.”
This will be the first of two meetings between the NFC South rivals in the last three weeks, as well as the Falcons’ final home game of the season.
–Field Level Media