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Buzz builds for Bucs-Seahawks, Tampa Bay's biggest game in some time

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) avoids a sack and gets free before throwing a deep completion to Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during the second half of a game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) avoids a sack and gets free before throwing a deep completion to Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during the second half of a game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016.

TAMPA — Let's hype the hyperbole. Let's add some buzz to an electric atmosphere. Let's overinflate the football about to be played at Raymond James Stadium.

When was the last time there was a game bigger than this for the Bucs?

Tampa Bay has temporarily returned from the abyss and at 5-5 has a chance to truly announce it is back in the playoff picture for the first time since — what, 2008?

The Seahawks (7-2-1) are better than the Bucs. They're maybe the second-best team in the NFC behind the Cowboys. They've been to the postseason five of the past six years, won Super Bowl XLVIII, lost XLIX the next season in wild fashion to the Patriots.

But around here, for a Bucs franchise that has not reached the postseason going on nine years, today should have a big-game feel at what is expected to be a nearly sold-out Raymond James Stadium.

How did the Bucs get here? Two weeks ago, after home losses to the Raiders and Falcons, the franchise looked dead in the water. And what has turned it around is turnovers.

Over the past five games, the Bucs have 15 takeaways, the most of any NFL team during that stretch: nine fumble recoveries and six interceptions. The past two opponents — Bears and Chiefs — have been held to 10 and 17 points, respectively.

"The guys, I think they're doing a very good job attacking the ball," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "We saw the effort in practice. It just wasn't translating to on the field in terms of attacking the football. And, knock on wood, we hope it continues. This is a (Seahawks) team … that has only thrown two interceptions, so it's going to be a big challenge for us to get some turnovers."

Conversely, the Bucs, especially Jameis Winston, have been taking care of the rock. The quarterback has 12 TD passes and just two interceptions in the past six games.

DOUG IN: RB Doug Martin's return has been huge. Though he has only 96 yards on 40 carries the past two games, teams have to honor the play-action fake. Maybe more impressive has been his blocking. Winston was sacked only once in last week's win. Martin's block on a defensive end gave Winston just enough time to flick a TD pass to TE Alan Cross.

WITH LOVE: Seattle coach Pete Carroll praised Winston, comparing his ascension to that of Carroll's QB, Russell Wilson. "I've been watching (Winston) for a long time. I watched him all the way through college and have always been really impressed with his tenacity and his competitiveness and his confidence," Carroll said. "He demonstrates confidence in the way he throws the football and the choices he makes. He totally believes in himself that he can make the plays, and he does."

Buzz builds for Bucs-Seahawks, Tampa Bay's biggest game in some time 11/26/16 [Last modified: Saturday, November 26, 2016 10:56pm]
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    A fan in a throwback jersey waits for the start of a game between the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. LOREN ELLIOTT | Times