Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bucs' visit to Cowboys a big stage for biggest game in years

Bucs rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves leaps onto Javien Elliott after intercepting Drew Brees in Sunday’s win over the Saints.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Bucs rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves leaps onto Javien Elliott after intercepting Drew Brees in Sunday’s win over the Saints.

TAMPA — Linebacker Lavonte David remembers his only trip to AT&T Stadium to play the Dallas Cowboys when he was a rookie in 2012, and despite a 16-10 loss, the shrine to showbigness did not disappoint. But it has been at least eight seasons since the Bucs have been on such a mammoth stage with so much on the line.

The Cowboys own the best record in the NFL at 11-2. The Bucs are tied with the Falcons for the NFC South lead at 8-5, hold a wild-card spot and are winners of five straight, matching the Lions for the longest streak in the league.

If that weren't enough, they are playing America's Team in a hype-filled spectacle on NBC's Sunday Football Night in America.

"We've been handling the big stages pretty well," David said. "We've got a great football team coming up, the Dallas Cowboys. It's going to be a battle. We're going to Jerry's World. It's always fun to play there.

"It goes to show your hard work is paying off and people are taking notice."

The first ones to take notice are the TV networks, and on Monday, Fox flexed the Bucs game on Dec. 24 in New Orleans to 4:25 p.m. It's the third week in a row the 1 p.m. starting time has been moved for a bigger audience.

"So that means somebody is noticing," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.

You would have to go back to 2008 in what became Jon Gruden's final season as head coach to find a bigger stage for the Bucs than this Sunday night in Dallas.

The Bucs and Panthers were 9-3 and co-owners of the No. 1 seed in the NFC entering a Monday Night Football game at Carolina. But Tampa Bay was an aging team, especially on defense, and the Panthers ran all over them. DeAngelo Williams (186 yards) and Jonathan Stewart (115) combined to rush for 301 yards in a 38-23 rout. The Bucs lost their next three games and were eliminated from the postseason, resulting in Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen being fired.

Somehow this feels different. The Bucs have a second-year quarterback who has made one Pro Bowl in Jameis Winston, not a 38-year-old Jeff Garcia. The defense is ascending in the first season under coordinator Mike Smith.

Since Week 10, the Bucs are the best in the NFL in points allowed per game (12.8), total takeaways (14, including a league-best 10 interceptions), touchdowns allowed (six) and opposing passer rating (62.5).

But Koetter knows this will be an even bigger step up in weight class. The Cowboys are "loaded on offense," Koetter says, with rookies such as quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott leading the way.

"They've got big-time players at every position and at least three Pro Bowl offensive linemen, an elite left tackle, a great, explosive wide receiver, one of the best tight ends of all time, two rookies that everybody is arguing who's the rookie of the year and who's the MVP of the league between those two guys," Koetter said.

Don't be fooled by the fact that the Giants snapped the Cowboys' 11-game win streak Sunday and swept them this season. This is the most complete team the Bucs will play in 2016.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's offense isn't lighting up the scoreboard. The Bucs have nine offensive touchdowns in the past five games, including one each at Kansas City and Sunday against New Orleans.

The Bucs most likely have to win their final three games to have a good shot at the division title or secure a wild card. By far the toughest opponent should be the Cowboys, with the stars on their helmets, Jerry Jones in the owner's suite, the opulence of Jerry's World and the world's largest video board that you can hide a 747 behind.

"It's a cool place to play. It's an awesome stadium to play in," Koetter said. "I've heard them say the last couple games there it's been a great atmosphere and extremely loud. I'm sure our guys will be fired up to play when the time comes, but we can't start getting fired up about it Monday at 4:30."

Koetter is right. How 'bout dem Cowboys? Right now, they're just a team standing in the way. But it sure feels like something bigger than just a regular-season football game.

"You know, we're an 8-5 football team. We've got bigger goals than that," Koetter said. "It's nice. It's nice. When we were 3-5, I'm sure not many people thought we were going to be 8-5. But we've got more to accomplish, and you're not going to accomplish anything by looking backward."

Up next

at Cowboys, 8:30 Sunday, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas TV/radio: Ch. 8; 620-AM, 103.5-FM

Up next

Game info going in here

Bucs' visit to Cowboys a big stage for biggest game in years 12/12/16 [Last modified: Monday, December 12, 2016 7:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  2. Lightning's Steve Yzerman enjoying Nikita Kucherov's scoring run

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, of Russia, celebrates after scoring a goal on the New Jersey Devils during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  3. Bucs journal: Offense needs to get off to a faster start

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The past two games have seen the Bucs offense muster furious rallies in the fourth quarter of losses, with 229 yards against the Patriots and a franchise-record 27 points against the Cardinals.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  4. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues

    Bucs

    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive" and Colts defensive back Darius Butler termed "positive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]
  5. Lightning's Steve Yzerman: Nikita Kucherov 'wants to be great'

    Blogs

    If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Nikita Kucherov joined Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games.