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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

More than No. 1 pick on line in Bucs' finale

TAMPA -- For all the focus on the Bucs losing and clinching the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in April, there are a few dubious honors Tampa Bay can avoid by winning against the Saints.

The Bucs haven't won at home this season, so a win would help the 2014 team from earning a rare comparison to the 1976 Bucs, who went winless in the franchise's first season. That was a 14-game season, so the Bucs finished 0-7 at home -- an 0-8 home record would be the first in team history. The NFL hasn't had a team go winless at home in five years, since the Rams went 0-8 as part of a 1-15 campaign in 2009.

The Bucs also have their last shot at avoiding going winless in division play -- they've gone 0-6 in the division just once (in 2006) since the current setup of eight four-team divisions started in 2002. Before that, you have to go back clear to 1976 and 1977, the team's first two seasons, when the Bucs went 0-4 in division play each year.

Even if the Bucs win, they can still clinch the No. 1 pick if the Titans lose to the Colts. There's one more piece of scoreboard watching to take part in -- the final two games in the Bucs' 2015 schedule will be determined this weekend. …

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Bucs agree with WR Louis Murphy on 3-year deal

Louis Murphy stretches to gain 12 yards on a pass from quarterback Josh McCown during the Bucs' November game against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Louis Murphy stretches to gain 12 yards on a pass from quarterback Josh McCown during the Bucs' November game against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.

Louis Murphy is the son of a preacher, but his faith was tested when the Bucs released him just one day before the start of the regular season.

Murphy kept working, and after being re-signed by the team three weeks later, had a 41-yard reception to set up the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bucs are 2-13 entering Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints and Murphy could've become a free agent after the season. But this time, the former Lakewood High and Florida Gators receiver is showing his  belief in the Bucs by signing a three-year extension Friday.

"I believe in this team, I believe in coach Lovie (Smith), I believe in the organization,'' said Murphy, who had also played for the Raiders, Panthers and Giants prior to landing in Tampa Bay. "I believe in all the guys in that locker room, regardless of what the record says. I believe we're going to be contenders in the future and I want to be a part of it. I want to see it turn around.'' …

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Safety Dashon Goldson joins Bucs' injured list with shoulder

Safety Dashon Goldson was added to the Bucs' injury report due to a shoulder injury that limited him in Wednesday's drills, but coach Lovie Smith said it's unlikely to keep him from playing in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Saints.

"Dashon has a shoulder that's bothered him. Should be good to go," said Smith, whose players have Thursday off for Christmas before returning to practice on Friday.

The only other addition to the injury report was rookie receiver Robert Herron, who Smith said has been slowed by a hip flexor. Herron has been inactive as a healthy scratch in six of the last seven games and hasn't caught a pass in more than two months.

Starting middle linebacker Mason Foster, who aggravated an Achilles tendon injury in Sunday's loss to Green Bay, did not practice for the second straight day and expressed concern that he might not be able to play. Guard Logan Mankins, who had been held out of Tuesday's practice, was back at practice Wednesday. …

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Bucs' David called 'underrated,' by Saints coach Payton after Pro Bowl snub

Bucs linebacker Lavonte David was left off the Pro Bowl team again this year but was named an alternate.

David is second in the NFL in tackles (141) and solo tackles (98), while tying for the sixth-most tackles for loss (17).

That got the attention of Saints coach Sean Payton, who says David is vastly underrated in the league.

“Each year when this Pro Bowl balloting comes out, I look down to see if No. 54 Lavonte David has made it,'' Payton said Wednesday. "I told him this last year. He’s as underrated a weakside linebacker in our game. But he’s a heck of a football player.''

Since entering the NFL in 2012, David leads the league solo tackles (316), while ranking second in total tackles (424) and tackles for loss (58). He is the only player in the NFL to post 300+ tackles, 10+ sacks and 5+ interceptions in the past three seasons. …

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Like last year, free agency won't hit Bucs too hard

A year ago, the open market of free agency hit the Bucs very lightly, with only a handful of part-time starters leaving to sign modest deals elsewhere. The more significant losses were by choice, as Tampa Bay's front office cut loose several veterans to shed high-priced contracts and free up room for free-agent spending of its own.

As the final game of 2014 arrives Sunday, the Bucs are in very much the same position, with 12 players due to be unrestricted free agents, nine of whom have started games this season. Knowing that, the season finale against the Saints is their last chance to make a case for an offer to stay in Tampa, or to try to turn heads elsewhere around the league.

"Now it's the last time. Lasting impression," coach Lovie Smith said. "You remember the last thing that you see most of the time ... for some of the other players that haven't done an awful lot yet, or haven't gotten the opportunity, these are valuable reps for them to show us first, I want to be here and as we rise, I'm going to be a part of that, and I'm going to be one of the reasons that we come up. This is an important football game." …

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Bucs McCown plans to keep playing

Josh McCown will be 36 on the 4th of July. He is 1-10 as a starter this season with 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for the Bucs, who most likely will strongly consider selecting a quarterback with the first or second overall pick.

Is McCown, who has another season left on his 2-year, $10-million contract with Tampa Bay, at the age where he would consider retirement and is he approaching Sunday’s game with the Saints as potentially the last of his career?

“Obviously, right now at this point in the season, your body is tired and all those things, but once you get away from it and reassess things – I feel good and my plan right now is to keep playing.’’

 

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Free agency ahead, Foster wants to return with Bucs

Bucs linebacker Mason Foster has started 54 games in his four years in Tampa, but as unrestricted free agent, he doesn't know how he'll fit into the team's future plans at a key position in the middle of the Bucs defense.

"I had some great years, met a lot of good people," Foster said Wednesday, preparing for Sunday's season finale against the Saints. "Free agency's coming up and I'm at the end of my contract year, so we'll see what happens. I definitely want to stay in Tampa. Both of my sons were born in Tampa, right across the street. I have a lot of ties down here. I love Tampa. It would be great, would be amazing to stay here, but it's a business. You know there's a chance you won't be here."

Foster, 25, missed only one game in his first three seasons with the Bucs, but he's missed five already this season, first with a shoulder injury and now with an Achilles tendon injury. He has 62 tackles, on par with previous seasons on a per-game basis, but he hasn't had any splash plays -- no sacks, no interceptions, no forced fumbles, this after returning two interceptions for touchdowns last season. …

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Bucs McCoy named to 3rd straight Pro Bowl

Gerald McCoy said it never gets old being named to the Pro Bowl and was thrilled when he received the honor for the third straight year on Tuesday. But the Bucs’ defensive tackle is tired of it being the only post-season game he’s invited to play in.

“We’re going to get this thing turned around,’’ McCoy said. “But really, what’s going to have to happen is we’re going to have to decide in the locker room that it’s time to change the culture. We can’t allow this to keep happening. That’s five years straight for me I’ve missed the post-season. Quite frankly, I’m tired of dealing with it. We’re all going to have to pick it up as a unit, as a team and get this thing rolling.’’

McCoy, 26, played nearly the entire season with a broken left hand and willed himself to back into a game against the Lions with a jacked up right knee that landed him on injured reserve last week. At 2-13 heading into Sunday’s season finale against the New Orleans Saints, the Bucs will own either the first or second pick in the 2015 NFL draft. …

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Lovie: Bucs not disappointed with rookie WR Herron

Inactive for six of the Bucs' last seven games with no catches in two months, sixth-round pick Robert Herron has had a quiet rookie season for the Bucs, but coach Lovie Smith said it's too early to say the team is disappointed with his progress.

"Sometimes numbers really do get you," Smith said Tuesday. "There's not a whole lot of room -- you talk about Vincent (Jackson), you talk about Mike (Evans), and Louis Murphy (is on injured reserve), but he's been pretty good too. It's no indictment against him or 'He's a disappointment' or anything like that. It just wasn't his time."

Herron has six catches for 58 yards this season, including a 9-yard touchdown catch from the first meeting with the Saints. Because he doesn't play on special teams, he's been inactive -- in his one game active, he was on the field as a 12th player when the Bucs were flagged, negating a key gain in the final minute of a close loss at Cleveland.

Smith said it'll be important that Herron works hard in preparation for next season. …

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Foster, Mankins sidelined at Bucs practice

In order to give players and coaches the day off on Christmas, the Bucs held practice on Tuesday, normally an off day in the traditional game week, but coach Lovie Smith won't comment on specific injuries until the league requires him to on Wednesday.

"You'll see tomorrow we're in pretty good shape," said Smith, preparing for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Saints and still seeking his first home win and first division win with a 2-13 record.

Starting left guard Logan Mankins sat out Tuesday's drills -- possibly just a veteran's day off -- as did middle linebacker Mason Foster, who was limited to 10 snaps Sunday as he aggravated an Achilles injury that had sidelined him the previous two games.

With Mankins sidelined, the Bucs had backup Garrett Gilkey, who has struggled with penalties and sacks this season when pressed into playing time by injuries, working with the first-team offensive line. Gilkey played only two offensive snaps in Sunday's loss to Green Bay, but gave up a sack on one of those plays.

Backup nickel defensive back Isaiah Frey, who missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury, was also sidelined Tuesday. …

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Smith: Some sacks from bad matchups on offensive line

TAMPA -- A day after his offensive line gave up a season-high seven sacks in a 20-3 loss to the Packers, Bucs coach Lovie Smith explained the struggles as a strength of the Packers lining up with an area that hasn't been a strength for Tampa Bay.

"In some games, it's not a good matchup. That wasn't a good matchup," he said. "For whatever reason, we didn't play well. We had some players playing in positions that were tough matchups."

Lovie Smith pointed to two sacks that came on rare substitutions to the line -- backup Garrett Gilkey played two plays as a sixth lineman and extra blocker, and on one, he gave up a sack to linebacker Clay Matthews. Josh Allen, an undrafted rookie who made his NFL debut a week earlier, played nine snaps at right guard for starter Patrick Omameh and was beaten by end Julius Peppers on another sack.

"There was a sack by Matthews on Gilkey. That's a tough duty," Smith said. "Josh Allen, getting him some reps, and Julius Peppers moved in. That's tough duty. Those were just a couple. Overall, their front was a lot better than we were yesterday." …

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Smith excited by high draft choice: "If you're going to be down here, you need to get something from it'

 

Every thorn has its rose. For Bucs coach Lovie Smith, it's the realization that his team could own the first or second pick in each round of the 2015 NFL draft

At 2-13, a loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium would clinch the top spot based on the worst won-loss record of opponents' strength of schedule. A win should net the Bucs no worse than the No. 2 overall pick. Currently, they hold a slight edge over the Tennessee Titans. …

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Defense's stand -- four stops at the 1 -- kept Bucs close

The Bucs' defense celebrates after Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws incomplete on a fourth and one during third quarter action.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The Bucs' defense celebrates after Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws incomplete on a fourth and one during third quarter action.

TAMPA -- On a day when the Bucs offense couldn't muster much of anything, Tampa Bay's defense put up a wall in the third quarter, stopping the Packers at the 1-yard line four straight times to keep the team within a touchdown.

Green Bay led 10-3 when the Bucs punted to open the third quarter, and the Packers drove down the field, going to third down just once in getting to the Tampa Bay 6-yard line.

Packers running back Eddie Lacy was stopped by safety Dashon Goldson at the 1-yard line, and then Lacy was again stopped at the 1 by defensive tackle Akeem Spence. On third and goal, fullback John Kuhn got the ball and again was stopped at the 1 by linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Da'Quan Bowers.

Opting to go for it, the Packers came with an empty backfield on fourth and goal, but Aaron Rodgers' quick pass down the middle, intended for receiver Randall Cobb, was broken up by nickel defensive back Leonard Johnson. …

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Bucs clinch top-two draft pick, get No. 1 with loss

With Oakland beating the Bills on Sunday for the Raiders' third win, the Bucs have locked up a top-two pick in the upcoming draft.

Getty Images

With Oakland beating the Bills on Sunday for the Raiders' third win, the Bucs have locked up a top-two pick in the upcoming draft.

As it relates to the 2015 NFL draft, the Bucs control their own destiny.

With Oakland beating the Bills on Sunday for the Raiders' third win, the Bucs have locked up a top-two pick in the upcoming draft -- meaning they would have at worst the lesser of prized quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. And if the Bucs lose their regular-season finale next week at home against the Saints, they would pick No. 1 overall, barely edging the Titans on the league's strength-of-schedule tiebreaker.

The Bucs went into the weekend with a slim lead in the SOS tiebreaker -- essentially, if teams finish with the same record, the one whose opponents won fewer games gets to pick first. A pair of underdog winners -- the Texans beating the Ravens and the Giants beating the Rams -- helped the Bucs and hurt the Titans, enough to put the Bucs in control of the top of the draft. …

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Bucs disappointed to see Packer fans 'take over' stadium

It was disheartening for the Bucs to look up into Raymond James Stadium and see thousands of Green Bay fans in green and yellow, enjoying the warm weather and the scoreboard.

DIRK SHADD | Times

It was disheartening for the Bucs to look up into Raymond James Stadium and see thousands of Green Bay fans in green and yellow, enjoying the warm weather and the scoreboard.

TAMPA -- The Packers hadn't been here in five years and always travel well, but it was still disheartening for the Bucs to look up into Raymond James Stadium and see thousands of Green Bay fans in green and yellow, enjoying the warm weather and the scoreboard.

"It was a little shocking, for them to go in and take over our stadium," safety Dashon Goldson said after the 20-3 loss. "Not only to get a win, but take over our stadium. It was kind of surprising to me. I've never seen anything like that."

The announced attendance for the sellout was 64,247, the most for any Bucs home game since the Eagles brought their own green in Dec. 2012. Bucs coach Lovie Smith, familiar with how well the Packers travel from his own days in the NFC North with the Bears, stopped short of saying he was embarrassed by the turnout.

"I wouldn't use that word," Smith said. "I look forward to the day where we're playing good enough football where more of our fans want to come see us play. Right now, we're not. That's what it is. I've been in this situation before, where they've taken it over before. We'll have our day. But right now, we have to take it." …

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