Bucs' Jacquizz Rodgers not awed by his surprise start

RB Jacquizz Rodgers starts against the Saints, finishing with 65 yards on 15 carries and a TD. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
RB Jacquizz Rodgers starts against the Saints, finishing with 65 yards on 15 carries and a TD.LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Published December 26 2016

TAMPA — Jacquizz Rodgers had to step into a starting role because of injuries earlier this season, but in Saturday's game at New Orleans, he stepped up after starter and former Pro Bowl RB Doug Martin was benched by coach Dirk Koetter.

"Playing football, you've always got to be ready," Rodgers said after he rushed for 63 yards on 15 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown. "We do a good job of everybody taking reps in practice, so when my number was called, just like always, you try to come in and step up."

Martin had averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry in four of the previous five games, so Rodgers' average of 4.2 yards was an improvement, though not enough to beat the Saints. Rodgers had two carries for no yards in the first Saints game two weeks earlier, then was inactive against the Cowboys the week before. He said the 31-24 loss Saturday, which all but eliminated the Bucs from playoff contention, was frustratingly close.

"We let one slip," he said. "This was a real important one that we needed. We have to come in ready to work after this Christmas holiday and finish this season the right way."

BRATE'S CATCHING ON: Cameron Brate's 12-yard touchdown catch Saturday was his eighth of the season, giving him the league lead among tight ends, edging Tennessee's Delanie Walker and San Diego's Hunter Henry.

What's more, Brate tied Jimmie Giles' 1985 record for the most touchdowns in a season by a Bucs tight end.

Brate left in the second half with a back injury and did not return, so the touchdown was his only catch of the game. Backup tight ends stepped up as Brandon Myers had two catches for 21 yards and rookie Alan Cross had one for 5.

MORE RECORDS: Obscured in the loss to the Saints was another strong game from Bryan Anger, who had a net average of 51 yards on his three punts. Anger, whose final two punts against the Saints in the win two weeks earlier were downed inside the 5-yard line, had his first two Saturday downed at the 9 and the 4.

Anger has 32 punts this season downed inside the 20, breaking the team record of 30, set in 2002 by Tom Tupa and matched by Josh Bidwell in 2007.

Anger, an alternate for the Pro Bowl, is on course to set Bucs single-season records for punting average (he's at 45.9 yards) and net average (42.4).

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected]om and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.