Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For Bucs, 2016 starts now

TAMPA — The Bucs went to bed Sunday night knowing they had been eliminated from the playoffs for the eighth straight year after wins by the Seahawks and Vikings. When players got to the team meeting Monday at One Buc Place, coach Lovie Smith told them let auld acquaintance be forgot because 2016 had begun.

"There's a two-game part of the season," Smith said. "We want to show everybody what we're going to be next year. That's how we're handling it."

The Bucs could finish 8-8. What's more, after Sunday's game against the Bears at Raymond James Stadium, they play at Carolina on Jan. 3 against a team that could be 15-0 and looking to cap off a perfect regular season.

"For us, we also have to finish up the season (against) the best team in football that's playing right now," Smith said. "So there's a lot for us to do these last couple days."

In addition to team goals, the Bucs have personal achievements within their sights.

Running back Doug Martin, with 1,305 yards, is 9 yards behind the Vikings' Adrian Peterson for the league rushing lead. Peterson left Sunday's win over the Bears with an ankle sprain. The Bucs have never had a rushing champion.

"I think it's important to our offensive line to help Doug Martin be the leading rusher in the league," Smith said. "It's important. It's always about the team goals at the end, but there's some individual things going on to be able to remember this season by. That's pretty important."

Quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall draft pick this year, is among the top candidates for offensive rookie of the year.

Winston has set club rookie records by passing for 3,422 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also has rushed for five touchdowns. Winston could use a win or two and some big passing days to distance himself from the other main candidates: Rams running back Todd Gurley, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and Raiders receiver Amari Cooper.

"(Winston) has been everything you want a franchise quarterback to be," Smith said. "So to say that there's another rookie out there better than our rookie that we have — you could ask me that a million times and you're going to get the same answer, probably explained the same way. What more can you look for in a franchise quarterback than Jameis Winston is how I would answer that. What he's done as a passer, as a runner, we talked about him as a leader, just everything, I think check, check, check, check is what you do."

Also, young players and veterans are fighting for roles and roster spots in 2016. The secondary has been a revolving door, with seven combinations deployed by Smith. In the loss to the Rams on Thursday, rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah was pulled after giving up a 60-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt. He was replaced by previously discarded cornerback Johnthan Banks, who could reclaim that spot.

Other players — such as wide receiver Adam Humphries, an undrafted free agent from Clemson — can solidify their roles going forward. Humphries has 26 catches for 250 yards and a touchdown as a slot receiver.

"It's really good to have the role I have right now," Humphries said. "Getting six catches in the last game was good for me, and just being reliable. I think I had six targets and six catches, so it was good to go out there and show the coaches I can be a reliable receiver.

"Coming in as an undrafted guy, who would've thought I would be doing that?"

Smith said he understands why fans might expect players with no chance at making the postseason to pack it in but vows that won't be the case with the Bucs.

"As I talked to our football team, we need to have our best practices this week," Smith said. "There's not going to be any shutting it down for the season or anything like that. We're going to work as hard this week as we've worked any week to make improvements and play our best ball.

"That goal (of making the playoffs) is gone. … We have more games left to go in our football season. We want to finish strong."

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