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Coach Raheem Morris points out Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing tougher schedule

TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris refused to make excuses right after Sunday's loss to the Texans.

A few days later, however, he is prepared to offer an explanation for losing four of the past five games: the schedule.

During their 1-4 stretch, the Bucs have played two games against the 7-3 Saints and lost to the 49ers (8-1), Bears (6-3) and Texans (7-3). It won't get easier Sunday when they travel to Green Bay to play the 9-0 defending Super Bowl champion Packers.

However, it doesn't exactly justify the Bucs being outscored 48-3 by the 49ers and 37-9 by the Texans.

"Without making excuses, we are playing a tougher schedule," Morris said Thursday. "We are playing tougher teams. There's no doubt about it, you can look at the guys we've lost to. … Houston is a tough team. The Saints are tough. Nobody knew the San Francisco 49ers were that tough, and they are. They didn't just beat our butts, they beat some other teams, too. And Detroit has shown they're pretty good."

After Sunday's game, the Bucs will likely have played the league's toughest schedule based on opponents' records.

In pointing out the schedule difficulty, Morris might have also inadvertently admitted that last year's surprising 10-6 record was the product of a relatively soft schedule as Tampa Bay beat only one team — the Saints in Week 17 — that posted a winning record.

JACKSON INJURY: After not playing football for 56 weeks while he was suspended from the NFL, S Tanard Jackson has made an immediate impact, with two interceptions in his first two games after being reinstated Oct. 11.

But Jackson injured his left hamstring during an interception return against the Bears on Oct. 23 in London and has been limited ever since. For the second straight day, Jackson was unable to practice Thursday and will most likely not play Sunday at Green Bay.

"I'm not in the preservation mode. He's hurting," Morris said. "He's been fighting for a while, and he hasn't been able to practice the last two days. We've got to see if he's got anything going (today) and if not … we've got to get ready to go with Larry Asante and (Corey) Lynch."

Lynch started two games at free safety this season after Cody Grimm sustained a season-ending knee injury against Atlanta on Sept. 25. Asante has played in eight career games with the Bucs and has five tackles and one interception.

HAYES REGAINS HIS JOB: LB Geno Hayes has spent most of the past two games anchored to the bench, replaced in the starting lineup by Adam Hayward.

But Morris, having determined that Hayes has sufficiently received his coach's message about playing within the scheme and making impactful plays, is returning the former Florida State standout to the starting lineup.

"It did open my eyes," Hayes said. "I have to raise my play to help this team win. I feel great. I'm happy to be back, and I'm ready to start playing again."

Still, the move does not suggest that all is well at the linebacker position. Tampa Bay is sorely lacking the kind of splash plays from the position that had once become synonymous with Bucs linebackers.

"I saw what (Morris) was trying to pull out of me and it let me see what was going on," Hayes said. "I have to take advantage of it. I have to take it up to another level. Without question."

INJURY UPDATE: DT Frank Okam, who missed the past two games with a calf injury, returned to practice. DE Michael Bennett (groin) had full participation. DT Albert Haynesworth (knee), who was excused from practice Wednesday, returned to workouts. LB Dekoda Watson (groin), who missed last week's game against the Texans, did not participate in practice. T Donald Penn was added to the injury report and had limited participation with a foot issue.

Times staff writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.

Coach Raheem Morris points out Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing tougher schedule 11/17/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 10:44pm]
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