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Bucs Beat

Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs offensive coordinator Sullivan to interview for Chicago Bears head coaching job

Quarterback Josh Freeman may be faced with learning his fourth offense in five years. 

Mike Sullivan, the mastermind of the most productive offense in Buccaneers history after only one season as offensive coordinator, will interview for the Chicago Bears head coaching job, general manager Mark Dominik confirmed.

The Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith Monday after nine seasons. The Bears went 10-6 but failed to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

Under Sullivan, the former New York Giants quarterbacks coach, the Bucs enjoyed a record-setting offense. Tampa Bay scored a club-record 389 points and compiled 5,820 yards of total offense.

Quarterback Josh Freeman became the first Bucs player to pass for more than 4,000 yards and set a club-record with 27 touchdown passes.

Running back Doug Martin set a club rookie record with 1,454 yards rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He also had more than 450 yards receiving to finish third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams also combined for more than 2,000 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns. …

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Bucs unsure on Quincy Black's status

Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano gave a quick update Monday on all his starters on injured reserve, saying that Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph (knee) and Carl Nicks (foot) are recovering well, as is defensive end Adrian Clayborn (knee).

All seem like they're on track to return healthy next season.

However, the one question still looming is the status of linebacker Quincy Black.

Black suffered a neck injury against the Chargers game Nov. 11, a scary scene where he was carted off the field after tackling running back Ryan Mathews. Coach Greg Schiano said at the time Black didn't suffer any spinal damage, and had "full function" with the exception of a problem with his left arm.

Apparently, Black has been seeing specialists all over the United States, but there isn't a lot more clarity about him going forward.

"Right now, they are still not sure what they're doing medically," Schiano said. "He's been to some different places in the country, the finest people there are. So I'm not sure what's going to happen there."

-- JOE SMITH

joesmith@tampabay.com

 

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Schiano noncommittal on Wright's future

Cornerback Eric Wright was one of the Bucs biggest free agent acquisitions in the offseason, signed to a five-year $37.5 million contract.

But it's become a question of whether Wright's first season in Tampa Bay will be the last.

Wright, 27, who was eligible to return after a four-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy, practiced all week and said he was healthy. But Wright was still inactive for Sunday's win over the Falcons.

The Bucs didn’t attribute the decision to anything contract-related, but it can’t be ignored that Wright’s suspension enables the Bucs to void the guarantees in his $37 million contract.

In Monday's season-ending news conference, coach Greg Schiano was noncommittal on whether Wright will be back.

"I can't tell you waht his future is with the Bucs, because that hasn't been determined yet," Schiano said.

Wright packed up his locker, and admitted it was an "up and down year," from his Achilles injury to the suspension that he stemmed from using Adderall. He didn't appear certain either on his future.

"I'm under contract, so, mentally, that's the way I'm going into the offseason," Wright said. "Just the way I'm thinking."

-- JOE SMITH …

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Schiano believes Freeman will win Super Bowls, but wants to add QB competition

Bucs coach Greg Schiano believes Josh Freeman can win Super Bowls, but he indicated he would like to provide some competition for the enigmatic quarterback next season.

Freeman became the first Bucs player to pass for more than 4,000 yards and set a club record with 27 touchdowns. But he struggled down the stretch, throwing nine of his 17 interceptions in the final three games.

The Bucs started 6-4 but lost five games in a row before beating the Atlanta Falcons 22-17 Sunday to finish 7-9 in the first season under Schiano. He said he plans to begin an evaluation of all his coaches and players and will be critical of himself. But when asked if he was 'all in,' with Freeman, who has one year remaining on his contract, he stopped short of a ringing endorsement.    

“That’s a question that, again, I’m not all in with myself yet, so how could I me all in with Josh Freeman or any other player?'' Schiano said. "I’m not side-stepping you, but I need to evaluate. …

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Bucs to draft 13th in 2013

The NFL has determined the 2013 draft order for non-playoff teams based on strengths of schedule for those teams.

The Bucs will select 13th. Here’s the draft order for non-playoff clubs (playoff teams’ draft selections will be determined by their advancement in the postseason).

1. Chiefs 2-14

2. Jaguars 2-14

3. Raiders 4-12

4. Eagles 4-12

5. Lions 4-12

6. Browns 5-11

7. Cardinals 5-11

8. Bills 6-10

9. Jets 6-10

10. Titans 6-10

11. Chargers 7-9

12. Dolphins 7-9

13. Bucs 7-9

14. Panthers 7-9

15. Saints 7-9

16. Rams 7-8-1

17. Steelers 8-8

18. Cowboys 8-8

19. Giants 9-7

20. Bears 10-6

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Decisions looming for Ronde Barber, Dallas Clark

ATLANTA -- Ronde Barber and his family gathered outside the visitors’ locker room at the Georgia Dome, and something about the whole scene seemed final.

Barber and his wife and two daughters posed for pictures with Barber’s parents and friends, making one wonder whether Barber also wondered if he’d played his last game.

The Bucs great, in his 16th season, said he hasn’t made a decision on returning, and that’s true. But because the decision involves others – do the Bucs want him back and how much will they pay him? – he is preparing himself for anything.

“If it is (his last game), it is,” said Barber, 37. “I’ve always been all right with that. I’ve never been shy of saying I’m proud of what I put out on the field and today is no different.”

Barber, who moved to safety this season after 15 years at cornerback, is on a year-to-year agreement with the Bucs and is not under contract for 2013. That means the club will have decide whether it wants him back and what his role will be, in addition to how much to pay him, before the sides can proceed.

Another player who is in limbo is tight end Dallas Clark, who will become a free agent in March and hasn’t committed to anything yet. …

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Tiebreaker sends Bucs to bottom of NFC South

ATLANTA -- The Bucs’ 7-9 finish puts them in a tie with their NFC South counterparts New Orleans and Carolina.

But there’s technically an order of finish, and it’s not good for the Bucs.

When tiebreaking procedures are applied, the Bucs fall the fourth and final spot in the division, losing on the basis of their poorer record against common opponents. The Panthers would be the second-place team because of their 2-0 record against the Saints this season, with the Saints finishing third. The Falcons, with their 13-3 mark, clinched the division title long ago.

This news has an impact on the Bucs from a scheduling standpoint. Each team has two opponents determined by order of division finish. In the Bucs’ case, they’ll be paired with the last-place team in the NFC East (Eagles) and the NFC North (Lions).

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Eric Wright sits out, now waits to learn his fate

ATLANTA -- When the Bucs went through the trouble of activating cornerback Eric Wright from the suspended list on Saturday night, it suggested he might play after all.

But Wright ultimately was left inactive today, the Bucs opting to sit him though he was eligible to play after serving his four-game NFL suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.

The Bucs didn’t attribute the decision to anything contract-related, but it can’t be ignored that Wright’s suspension enables the Bucs to void the guarantees in his $37 million contract. Even Wright acknowledged the possibility.

“That’s something we have to visit later, in the next few of weeks or so,” Wright said.

When the Bucs departed Tampa for Atlanta on Saturday, Wright still was unclear about whether he’d play. He said he performed well in practice last week and that his Achilles injury has healed.

“I came ready to play,” Wright said. “Bt that wasn’t my role today. I tried to help out on the sideline and support my teammates any way I could. That was my role today. I obviously wanted to play, but I’m glad we at least got the win.” …

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Video: Gary Shelton on the Bucs

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Falcons, risking injuries, play to win vs. Bucs

ATLANTA -- It’s a question that can be endlessly debated, but the Falcons made an emphatic decision when it came to playing their regular players in a game that was mostly meaningless.

With the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs already sewn up, the Falcons still played QB Matt Ryan and all their starters against Tampa Bay, exposing them to injuries that could impact their availability for the playoffs.

CB Dunta Robinson suffered a possible concussion in a collision with Bucs RB Doug Martin and star DE John Abraham sustained an ankle injury that coach Mike Smith believed to be minor.

Did he even consider sitting his starters?

“Absolutely not,” Smith said. “We’ve said from the very beginning that we’re going to play this game to win. I think we did that. We just didn’t get it done today.”

It could be argued the Falcons played without a great deal of energy given the fact nothing was at stake, but Smith rejected that thinking. …

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Bucs cut back on blitzes to rush Matt Ryan

ATLANTA -- Few teams have protected their quarterback as reliably this season as the Falcons, who had given up just 26 sacks entering Sunday’s game, fifth fewest in the NFL.

But you might not have guessed that considering how the Bucs unleashed an assault on Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who was sacked only twice but was under duress throughout the game.

And the Bucs notably accomplished the feat without using the endless number of blitzes they’ve come to rely on. Instead, they rushed mostly with their primary four defensive linemen, who won enough matchups with Atlanta’s blockers to keep Ryan on the run.

“That’s it. It was the four of us,” DE Da’Quan Bowers said. “Anytime you can get pressure on the quarterback with just four guys, it’s an amazing feeling.”

S Ronde Barber said, “The few (blitzes) we did bring were really run stoppers.”

The Bucs haven’t consistently pressured quarterbacks for most of the season, entering the game ranked 30th with 25 sacks. Going into the postseason with Sunday’s performance might be a foreshadowing, Bowers said. …

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Photo gallery: Bucs 22, Falcons 17

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Images of the Bucs' win over the Atlanta Falcons.

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Bucs' inactives include cornerback Eric Wright

ATLANTA -- The Bucs are here at the Georgia Dome for their anticlimactic season finale against the Falcons, and we’ve got a little news to share before kickoff.

Cornerback Eric Wright, back this week after serving a four-game league suspension, is inactive and will not play. Coach Greg Schiano had remained noncommittal all week about Wright’s possible participation, but the team activated him Saturday night, giving it the ability to play him today.

Whether it all has anything to do with his future status with the team remains to be seen, but the Bucs’ ability to void the remaining guarantees in his contract – which calls for him to make a guaranteed $7.75 million next season – can’t be ignored.

Elsewhere, the other Bucs inactives are running back Michael Smith, linebacker Jacob Cutrera, guard Roger Allen, receiver Chris Owusu, defensive tackle Corvey Irvin and defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo.

For the Falcons, their inactives are quarterback Dominique Davis, safety William Moore, center Joe Hawley, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn and defensive tackle Travian Robertson.

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Bucs' Mike Williams looks to top off career year

Third-year receiver Mike Williams needs 69 yards on Sunday to record his first 1,000-yard season. Williams also is poised to set a career high in yards per catch, entering the game with 16.3 yards per reception – sixth among starting receivers.

He’s quietly put together a very impressive season for a No. 2 receiver, but Williams maintains his deference to Vincent Jackson, whom he credits for his much of the success.

“With that guy on the field, you have to get at least 900 yards on the other side,” Williams said.

Williams also scored eight touchdowns a year after he scored just three times during a sophomore slump.

“That’s one thing I wanted to do was get back in the end zone,” he said. “I think I could have gotten back in there a lot more this year and helped us win, but it was a lot better than I did last year.”

The arrow seems to be pointing up with Williams, who was more sure-handed this season and certainly more productive than he was in 2011.

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Here's why the Bucs might opt not to play Eric Wright

Before we begin, here’s a disclaimer: This is only speculation. Reasonable speculation, that is.

We told you earlier today about coach Greg Schiano’s cryptic answers regarding cornerback Eric Wright and whether he’d play in Sunday’s season finale now that he’s served his four-game NFL suspension. All week long, Schiano has said he’d do whatever was best for the team, whatever that means.

Today, he remained noncommittal on whether Wright would play, although Wright has practiced all week and appears healthy.

Now, here’s something else to consider. You probably recall reading a few weeks ago that Wright’s suspension allows the Bucs to void the guarantees in his contract, namely the $7.75 million salary he is due to earn in 2013. That would allow the Bucs to release him after this season and owe him nothing.

If the Bucs are even remotely considering this, they’d be very wary of Wright sustaining an injury on Sunday. …

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