Make us your home page

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

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lovie Smith: final two games could build momentum for Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith paces the sidelines in the third quarter of a football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith paces the sidelines in the third quarter of a football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015.

TAMPA — Bucs coach Lovie Smith already has declared the next two games as the start of the Bucs' 2016 season, hoping to build momentum that will sustain them for eight months.

But December hasn't been much to remember for the Bucs (6-8). In the past five years, Tampa Bay is 3-18 during the final month of the regular season.

"I'm a firm believer — big believer — that it's about momentum and how you finish up," Smith said. "Yes, I believe that. We know that we are going to be a good football team, but how about confirming it right at the end. There's a good chance we can play the Chicago Bears next year. For us, we know we are going to play the team with the best record in football right now (that) is in our division. We're going to have to eventually beat the Carolina Panthers. To have an opportunity to beat the Bears and to finish up with the possible Super Bowl champion or whatever, yeah, I think that momentum can help us as we start working in the offseason."

It's difficult for teams to be consistent from one season to the next because of the amount of roster turnover each year. But with the Bucs' core of players in either their first or second seasons, Smith doesn't believe a lack of continuity will be a concern.

"It will change from year to year, but the foundation will not change," Smith said. "Our core players will remain in place. We talk about young players. When you go through what we've gone through with young players, you think we're going to let somebody have them? No, these are foundation pieces we're talking about that we're going to go forward with."

COMING BACK: DE T.J. Fatinikun has been on injured reserve since an ACL injury to his right knee in Week 4, but the 24-year-old is doing well in his rehabilitation and eager to return healthy for the 2016 season.

"It tests your mental strength," he said from the Bucs' locker room Wednesday. "My biggest thing is covering the bases, not overlooking stuff. It helps you see things in a whole different perspective, which I think will make me a better player. It's a tough process. It's ridiculously hard, but I've had great support from these guys, my family and my friends, and it helps keep you going and getting better."

Fatinikun, born in Lagos, Nigeria, has decided to now go by his given name, Olatunji (oh-lah-TOON-gee), from which his nickname is derived.

His full name is Ayokunle Olatunji Fatinikun.

"I'm growing into a man," he said. "This injury was definitely a life-changing experience for me. I was stunned by it. I just wanted to change things and make sure I'm becoming a better man and fully be the man I can be, starting with my name."

Fatinikun, who had nine tackles as a rookie in 2014 and three in two games this season before the injury, still has months of rehabilitation ahead but is hopeful he can be back at practice, perhaps by offseason workouts or mandatory minicamp in early summer. The Bucs have a handful of promising young linemen, including second-year pro Jacquies Smith and first-year player Howard Jones, both 25.

"I feel better now, and I'm not even all the way healed yet," Fatinikun said. "I'm excited about the opportunity when I am fully healthy."

JACKSON, SPENCE OUT: The Bucs will be without WR Vincent Jackson (knee) and DT Akeem Spence (ankle) again Sunday against the Bears. S Chris Conte (ankle) and DL Kourtnei Brown (groin) are doubtful. G Logan Mankins (knee) is questionable and could be a gametime decision. DE George Johnson (calf) is probable.

ETC.: The Bucs say Sunday's game, the season finale at Raymond James Stadium, is approaching a sellout.

Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.

Up next

Bucs vs. Bears, 1 Sunday,

Raymond James Stadium

TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM,


Line: Bucs by 3

Lovie Smith: final two games could build momentum for Bucs 12/25/15 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2015 8:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves: 'I'm not making any plays'


    TAMPA — Eli Manning gathered his receivers together on the sideline during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and told them he planned to target the weakest link of the secondary all afternoon.

    Patriots receiver Chris Hogan gets position in front of Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a 5-yard touchdown pass in New England’s win on Oct. 5.
  2. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.
  3. Signs point to Jameis Winston dressing vs. Bills


    TAMPA — The Bucs didn't sign another quarterback Wednesday, which would suggest they are confident that Jameis Winston can be active as a backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday at Buffalo if he doesn't start.

  4. FSU doesn't feel need for ongoing reminder of last year's beatdown at Louisville


    Of course Florida State remembers what happened against Louisville last year. The 63-20 loss was one of the worst defeats in Seminoles history.

    Louisville's Lamar Jackson looks back at the action from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Murray State, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
  5. Goodell: NFL not changing its national anthem policy


    NEW YORK — In the face of fan unrest and accusations from the president about the league being unpatriotic, the NFL is not changing its national anthem policy to require players to stand.

    NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a news conference, Wednesday in New York. [AP Photo/Julie Jacobson]