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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

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.

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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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A step back: Offensive line allows season-high 7 sacks

The Bucs' offensive line gave up a season-high seven sacks in Sunday's 20-3 loss to Green Bay.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The Bucs' offensive line gave up a season-high seven sacks in Sunday's 20-3 loss to Green Bay.

TAMPA -- If the Bucs offensive line had seemed to take a step forward last week in shifting Demar Dotson to left tackle, there was a pronounced step back Sunday, as the line gave up a season-high seven sacks in a 20-3 loss to Green Bay.

"We didn't do our job today," said Evan Dietrich-Smith, who had played for the Packers until signing with Tampa Bay this spring. "We've got to give him time. We have to do whatever we can do ... We did some good things, and it might not have (always) been on us, but when it's us too many times, we've got to fix that trend."

The Bucs have allowed 49 sacks this season, the fourth-highest total in the NFL and already ahead of the 47 allowed last year, a total that prompted the team's front office to trade or release four of the five starters on the line. The lack of pass protection went along with disappointing run blocking as the team totaled just 16 yards on 14 carries running the ball. …

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Bucs' run game disappears with 16 yards vs. Packers

The Bucs' 16 yards on 14 carries were the lowest yardage total for the team since 1989, and the second-lowest in any NFL game this season.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The Bucs' 16 yards on 14 carries were the lowest yardage total for the team since 1989, and the second-lowest in any NFL game this season.

TAMPA -- The Bucs had hoped to establish their running game Sunday, knowing longer, sustained drives would keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field.

"Something we came into the game with (was) to get 5 yards per carry, and we were unable to do that consistently today," starting running back Doug Martin said. "In the future, we want to do that."

Unable to do that consistently? The Bucs weren't able to do it once Sunday, with a long of 4 yards the entire game, finishing with 16 yards on 14 carries, the lowest yardage total for the team since 1989, and the second-lowest in any NFL game this season.

As a result, the Bucs also reset their season low for time of possession for the third week in a row, keeping the ball for just 21:22 while putting their defense on the field for 38:38. The Bucs were outgained by 322 yards, the fourth-largest differential in team history.

"It's tough when you have less than 20 yards rushing," said coach Lovie Smith, who ran just 14 times despite not trailing by more than 10 points until the final three minutes. …

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