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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Five things to watch in Bucs-Chargers game Sunday

TAMPA -- Bucs coach Dirk Koetter is seeking the "California sweep," with wins at San Francisco and San Diego in the same season.

In their first 40 seasons, the Bucs totaled just four regular-season wins in California -- at the 49ers in 1980, at the Chargers in 1996, back in San Francisco in 2010 and in Oakland in 2012 -- as well as, of course, their Super Bowl win against the Raiders in San Diego in January 2003.

So two in one season would be quite an accomplishment. Here are five other things to watch in Sunday's Bucs-Chargers game ...

1. Can Brent Grimes intercept a pass from Philip Rivers? Again? Rivers has thrown 147 career interceptions, but no individual player has more than the four that Grimes  has, all in three games over the last three seasons. Rivers is also the quarterback that Grimes has picked off the most in his career, edging the Bucs' Josh Freeman (3) and the Saints' Drew Brees (2), who he'll face twice in the next four games.

Rivers has been around long enough that three other Bucs can claim interceptions against him while with other teams -- CB Alterraun Verner, LB Daryl Smith and S Major Wright.

Just to balance that, Rivers is one of just 13 quarterbacks ever to throw for four touchdown and no interceptions against the Bucs, doing so in a 2008 win. He's only had three such games in his 176-game career; the other two were against the Jaguars.

2. Can Doug Martin rush for 100 yards against San Diego? Martin hasn't cracked 100 yet this season in his five games, topping out at 87 in the win against Seattle.

It'd be notable, in that the Chargers are one of just four NFL teams that haven't given up a 100-yard rushing game this season, along with the Patriots, Cowboys and Giants. Those other three teams are a combined 28-6, as many losses as the 5-6 Chargers have. The Bucs just missed that group, allowing the Bears' Jordan Howard to rush for exactly 100 yards in their win over Chicago.

San Diego hasn't allowed anyone to rush for more than 82 yards -- that's an NFL low -- but the three teams that got 70-yard games against the Chargers all came away with wins.

Most 100-yard games allowed this season? It's easily the 49ers, who have given up eight, double the next-worst run defense, as the Colts and Raiders have allowed four each.

3. Can Robert Ayers stay perfect in San Diego? Ayers started his NFL career in Denver as a division rival of the Chargers, and he's 4-0 in his career at Qualcomm Stadium. Overall, he's 6-3 in his career against San Diego, including a playoff win in 2013.

"Philip Rivers is one of my favorite quarterbacks to play against," said Ayers, who got a sack and forced fumble against him in 2011. "He's a super-fiery guy, super-competitive, brings a lot of passion to the game, like most defensive guys are and how I'd like to think I am."

4. Can the Bucs really win four in a row? Tampa Bay's only had one four-game win streak since the start of 2009, over seven-plus seasons. Their last one came in 2012, and coincided with the last time they played the Chargers.

How many Bucs playing today were in that win against San Diego? Just six -- Martin, Demar Dotson, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David as starters, with Keith Tandy and Luke Stocker as backups. Four years is a long time. ...

5. How many fumbles can the Bucs defense force? Here's a major opportunity -- Tampa Bay's defense is tied for the NFL lead with 11 forced fumbles, and the Chargers offense is tied for the NFL with 11 fumbles lost.

Travis Benjamin's three lost fumbles are the most by any NFL receiver, and only one running back has lost more than Melvin Gordon, who has two last year and lost four as a rookie last year. Rivers, too, has lost three fumbles.

While we're on the topic of fumbles, the Bucs offense need be careful, too -- Jameis Winston is tied for the NFL lead this year with four lost fumbles, and Doug Martin, who lost one last week, led all NFL running backs with five last season.

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Bucs DT Gerald McCoy back at practice

Good news on the Bucs injury front, as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who sat out practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a foot injury that had him wearing a boot after Sunday's win against Seattle, was back practicing on Friday morning.

McCoy had said Tuesday that he would be playing in San Diego on Sunday and "ready to rock," but his absence during the two main days of practice preparation raised a flag about his status for Sunday. It now reads like the Bucs were being overly cautious to give his foot extra rest.

The Bucs had safety Ryan Smith (shoulder) and tight end Brandon Myers (hip) practicing again on Friday, as well as practice-squad WR Josh Huff, who could be elevated to the active roster to make his Bucs debut on Sunday.

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Bucs' Hawley says Seahawks player spat on him during game

Bucs center Joe Hawley said he was spat on by a Seattle player during Sunday’s 14-5 win over the Seahawks.

Although Hawley said he cannot be sure, he believes the expectorating player was Alabama rookie defensive tackle Jarran Reed.

"They were hitting me late and when I got up, when I got all fired up, one guy actually spit in my face after one of the plays and I got all fired up because I don’t think that should be part of the game at all," Hawley said Thursday night during his weekly radio show on 620-WDAE. "It’s one thing pushing, shouting, yelling, but as soon as he spit in my face, I was pretty fired up about that."

When asked if he thought the player who spit on him was No. 90 (Reed), Hawley said, "Yeah I think that’s who it was. I’m not sure. He’s a young guy, he just ... that’s not the way to do it."

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Most career INTs vs. Philip Rivers? Bucs' Brent Grimes

The Bucs only face AFC opponents once every four years, so even an 11-year starter like Philip Rivers has a limited history against Tampa Bay -- he threw four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a San Diego win in Tampa in 2008, then threw for another three (but two INTs) in a 2012 loss in Tampa.

Cornerback Brent Grimes has a much more recent -- and successful -- history against Rivers, having not only played against him in each of the last three years with the Dolphins, but having gotten interceptions in all three games. He has four total INTs against Rivers, which ranks as the most he has against any NFL quarterback, and the most that anyone has picked off Rivers in his 147 career interceptions.

Normally, such an honor with a quarterback who's only played with one team would have to go to a division rival -- he's now faced the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs close to 20 times each, and yet Grimes, in three career games, has four interceptions, all since the 2013 season. …

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Bucs fan primer: What to root for in Week 13

Here we go again, helping Bucs fans understand which outcomes they should be pulling for to maximize the Bucs' chances of finding a spot in the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

Tampa Bay, at 6-5, is one game back of the Falcons for the NFC South lead and a half-game back of the Redskins for the second NFC wild card. The Cowboys' (narrow) win Thursday over the Vikings helped the Bucs, as Minnesota was at 6-5 and a close challenger for that last wild card, but now they're 6-6 and the Bucs can move ahead with a win Sunday in San Diego.

The New York Times' "Playoff Simulator" has the Bucs around a 31 percent chance to make the playoffs right now -- win Sunday, that improves to about 41 percent, but lose, and it drops to about 19 percent. And even if the Bucs win and all six of the following games go the right way, their chances only increase to about 46 percent. Still ... …

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Bucs' Mike Evans and wife welcome daughter Ariah

Mike Evans' amazing 2016 has gotten even better, somehow.

Evans and his wife Ashli, married in February, celebrated the birth of daughter Ariah Lynn Evans on Wednesday. Evans, who was excused from Wednesday's practice to be there for her birth, was back at practice Thursday in preparation for Sunday's game at San Diego. Evans also has a young daughter, Mackenzie, and has her name tattooed on his left arm.

On the field, Evans has established himself as one of the best receivers in the NFL, tied for the league lead with 10 touchdown receptions and ranking in the top three in receptions and receiving yards. He is just the fourth player in NFL history to top 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons.

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Gerald McCoy on emotion in NFL: 'We've got handcuffs on'

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy is grateful the NFL is allowing players to wear customized cleats Sunday in support of personal causes -- his is in support of single parents -- but at the same time, he's frustrated that emotional, spontaneous celebration isn't encouraged more by the league.

"We don't get a chance to express ourselves a lot. That's why so many fines are going on, a lot of flags going on. We've got handcuffs on," McCoy said. "I don't mind saying that, because that's what I believe. I believe the NFL's put handcuffs on us and not letting us express ourselves. It's very hard to make a play in the NFL and to do it consistently. Doing it once, that emotion comes out."

McCoy said he remembers when he was drafted, and commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to the top draft picks about wanting them to show emotion about being in the NFL -- McCoy gave the commissioner a big bear hug when his name was announced, as is now the norm for top picks. …

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Bucs' Noah Spence named NFL Rookie of the Month

Bucs defensive end Noah Spence, who had 1.5 sacks in Sunday's win over Seattle, has been named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Month for November.

Spence, drafted in the second round, had 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in November in helping the Bucs to a 3-1 record -- he now has 5.5 sacks on the season, second-most among NFL rookies, trailing only Jacksonville's Yannick Ngakoue.

Spence is the first Bucs player to win NFL Rookie of the Month since 2012, when linebacker Lavonte David took home the honors in November. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston won Offensive Rookie of the Month in November last season.

There were 22 defensive players taken higher than Spence, who went to the Bucs with the No. 39 overall pick.

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Bucs face Chargers defense that has struggled late in games

Bucs fans have seen a lot this season in Tampa Bay's 6-5 start, but fourth-quarter lead changes haven't been a big part of that.

The Bucs have had just two games with a lead change in the fourth quarter -- the Carolina game, where the score was tied the entire quarter until Roberto Aguayo's game-winning field goal as time expired, and the Raiders loss, where the Bucs grabbed the lead with 3:48 to play, only to see Oakland tie it and then win in overtime.

San Diego, on the other hand, is well-accustomed to late-game change, and most of the time, it hasn't gone well for them. The Chargers have the NFL's worst second-half defense, giving up 16.2 points on average in the second half of games, including 10.1 points per game in the fourth quarter alone (nearly twice the 5.2 allowed by the Bucs).

They have led in all six of their losses, and they've led in the second half of five of those six losses. Here's how it breaks down:

-- Week 1, at Chiefs: San Diego was up 24-3 late in the third quarter, but gave up 17 points in the fourth and lost in overtime.

-- Week 3, at Colts: San Diego was up 22-20 late, but gave up a touchdown with 1:17 to play and lost 26-22. …

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Major Wright glad to be back with Bucs: 'Those streets are cold'

It has been three long months since Major Wright was cut by the Bucs, and as he returned Wednesday as safety Chris Conte battles an injury, Wright was grateful for another chance to show he still belongs in the NFL.

"Those streets are cold," said Wright, 28, who played extensively with the Bucs in 2014-15. "It's very frustrating. You're waiting on the call. I'm texting my agent, like 'What have you heard?' I've got a lot of ball left in me. It hurts to see every week go by and you didn't get that call. It's stressful."

Wright was one of three safeties brought in for a workout Tuesday and got the job, no doubt his familiarity with the defensive scheme giving him an edge on an outsider who would come in needing to pick up terminology and alignment in a real hurry.

"My mentality was 'I'm coming to get a job,'" said Wright, who split time between home in Fort Lauderdale and Tampa while he was out of the league -- he worked out for the Panthers and Dolphins but wasn't signed. …

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Jameis Winston to Bucs fans: This game ball is for you

Jameis Winston began his weekly press conference by presenting a game ball to Tampa Bay fans for their support at Raymond James Stadium during the 14-5 win over Seattle on Sunday.

RICK STROUD | Times

Jameis Winston began his weekly press conference by presenting a game ball to Tampa Bay fans for their support at Raymond James Stadium during the 14-5 win over Seattle on Sunday.

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston has received his share of game balls during his short career.

But on Wednesday, he began his weekly press conference by presenting a game ball to Tampa Bay fans for their support at Raymond James Stadium during the 14-5 win over Seattle on Sunday.

"I really just want to give this game ball to the fans," Winston said, holding up a football in his right hand. "They did an amazing job. This game ball goes to all the fans. You did an amazing job. I hope that’s in our future every Sunday at Ray Jay. This is for you, fans."

The Bucs had their largest announced crowd of the season -- 63,674 -- at RJS against the Seahawks. Earlier this year, coach Dirk Koetter had been critical of the large number of opposing fans in the lower bowl of the stadium during home games.

But Winston said the support against the Seahawks was a factor in the game.

"It just gives the team just an extra sort of boost," Winston said. "I just thank them for supporting us and it was a great experience at Ray Jay this past Sunday."

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Warren Moon: Jameis Winston a young leader, much like Wilson

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was asked Tuesday about quarterbacks he has tried to emulate, and one of the names he mentioned was Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Moon, who was in attendance Sunday with Seattle's radio broadcast as Winston helped the Bucs upset the Seahawks for their third straight win.

Moon said the way Winston has quickly elevated himself as a young leader of an improving Bucs team reminds him of the way Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson did in Seattle in his first two seasons, with different strengths on the field but similar work ethics in preparing for games.

"It reminds me a lot of when Russell Wilson came in to Seattle," Moon said. "Thse two guys have different personalities, but they went about it the same way as far as how they got their team's attention at a very young age and were able to lead their teams at an early time in their careers because of how they went about it. The veteran players can take heed: 'This is a guy I can follow: I see he's putting in the work, doing the little things, and he's very talented.'" …

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Gerald McCoy says he'll play Sunday vs. Chargers

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times  Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) celebrates after sacking Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) on third down during the second half of a football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) celebrates after sacking Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) on third down during the second half of a football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.

Bucs sack leader Gerald McCoy, who wore a walking boot out of Raymond James Stadium following Sunday's 14-5 win over Seattle, has said he will play against the San Diego Chargers this week.

Appearing on SiriusXM NFL radio Tuesday, McCoy said, "I will be out in San Diego and ready to rock against the Chargers in Week 13."

McCoy, who leads the Bucs with six sacks, underwent tests Monday but the ankle/foot injury was not considered serious.

"He's getting some tests run on his foot, ankle," coach Dirk Koetter said Monday. "It's pretty common for guys who have a foot or an ankle injury to put them in a boot, just so they -- it takes the stress off it, it takes the body weight (off)."

McCoy is coming off one of his best games of the season. The four-time Pro Bowl player had 1.5 sacks against the Seahawks.

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Bucs sign S Major Wright, cut RB Mike James, WR Louis Murphy

The unspecified injury to Bucs starting safety Chris Conte is serious enough that Tampa Bay on Tuesday signed veteran Major Wright to add experienced depth, waiving backup RB Mike James to make room.

Wright, 28, has not played in the NFL this season -- he was among the Bucs' preseason cuts in August and had workouts with the Dolphins and Panthers but wasn't signed by either team. He had 76 total tackles with Tampa Bay in 2014-15, and worked with Bucs defensive backs coach Jon Hoke when they both were with the Bears. If Conte can't play Sunday at the Chargers, Keith Tandy would start in his place, with Wright as a backup, along with rookie Ryan Smith, who hasn't played a snap on defense.

The Bucs also announced Tuesday that WR Louis Murphy has been waived off the PUP-reserve list -- he has not played this season, suffering a setback the first week he returned to practice from ACL surgery last year. Murphy would have been paid for the rest of the season, so it's likely he asked to be waived so he can play elsewhere this season. He was due to make $2-million in 2017, so the move opens up some salary-cap room for the Bucs next season. …

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Jameis Winston on PFT Live: 'Hard work has paid off'

The Bucs' three-game win streak to get to 6-5 has piqued national interest in the team, and quarterback Jameis Winston was a guest on Pro Football Talk's PFT Live on NBC Sports Network on Tuesday morning, talking with Mike Florio for 10 minutes about his second season and the team's progress.

Here's what he had to say:

Florio: Of the big wins against the Chiefs and Seahawks, which win meant more to you?

Winston: "I would have to say both. Because the first game against K.C., it was a confidence booster for our team, but the last game, we had a very emotional background to the game with one of our cornerbacks, Alterraun Verner, losing his father the Friday after Thanksgiving, and two players in Kevin Pamphile and Lavonte David spending their first Thanksgiving without their mothers, so that was a very emotional win for us."

Florio: Eleven games into your second season, what's been the hardest part of the transition from college to the NFL?

Winston: "Maintaining a routine. You can never be bored with being consistent. You've got to keep getting better every day. You've got to find a way to get better every day."

Florio: How much has the game slowed down for you as a quarterback? …

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