TAMPA — The envelope please: Corey Lynch has won the starting safety job over rookie Vince Anderson and James Lee held off veteran Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle for Sunday's game against the Falcons.
Lee, who took over when Trueblood sprained his right knee Oct. 24 against St. Louis, has started the past five games, though Trueblood has been active for two. Lynch, 25, takes over from rookie Cody Grimm, who broke his left fibula in Sunday's 17-10 loss at Baltimore.
The Bucs promoted Anderson from the practice squad. But Lynch has appeared in 31 career games and had a big edge in experience.
Lynch had two interceptions in the final preseason game at Houston, including one returned for a touchdown, and is tied for the lead in special-teams tackles this season.
"I've got a lot of confidence in Corey," coach Raheem Morris said. "He's been there for a while, he's a crafty young man, he's been with a bunch of different teams, he plays the game above the neck, he does some things that we like. I look forward to going and watching him play. He had a nice competition with Vince this week. Vince is kind of the raw, athletic type of guy, and we went with the crafty vet. I wouldn't be shocked if we saw Vince a little bit, maybe. I wouldn't be shocked if you see a little bit of Ronde Barber."
The 6-foot, 206-pound Lynch excels against the pass but defending the run never has been his strength.
"He played better this preseason vs. the run and that's all you can really grade him on, what he's done last," Morris said. "He played decent. We know he's played well on special teams, he's been a very productive guy there for us. He's not a big, physical striker by any means. You're not talking about John Lynch here. We are talking about Corey Lynch. But he does display elite ball skills when he has an opportunity to catch the ball. He does display a knack to be around the ball. Our quarterback (Josh) Freeman hates him."
As for Lee, he virtually has taken right tackle from Trueblood, who is a free agent at the end of the season.
"James is a pretty good pass protector," Morris said. "…He plays with a nice demeanor as well. I don't know if he gives you as much thump as Trueblood, but he definitely plays with a nice demeanor. The thump really comes from that group and how they play. You get different things from both guys."
MUST WIN? The Falcons own a two-game lead over Tampa Bay in the NFC South Division and a win gives them a season sweep.
It turns out Morris' "Race to 10" (wins) might not be enough.
With next week's game at Washington and the Jan. 2 finale at New Orleans, the Bucs need to make a move, especially at home.
First-round pick DT Gerald McCoy put it simply: "This is almost a must-win (game). It's not really an almost, it's a must-win. We've got to get this one."
Falcons coach Mike Smith has watched his team win the past four against Tampa Bay, but every meeting seems to come down to the wire.
"It was a barn burner when we played up here in Atlanta, and I anticipate it will be the same type of game down there in Tampa this weekend," he said. "We've been very fortunate in terms of being able to win the close games. Going into Week 12, 27 percent of all NFL games were decided by three points or less and 52 percent of all NFL games have been decided by eight points or less. That's just the way it is. I think what you have to do is emphasize to your team that you're probably going to be in those situations and that you're going to have to be prepared to make plays in the fourth quarter."