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.