TAMPA — Entering Sunday's game against the Falcons, Bucs coach Raheem Morris admitted the performance of Mason Foster was one of the season's pleasant surprises.
After watching the rookie middle linebacker seamlessly take over defensive play-calling duties for the first time, Morris is even more convinced Foster should be on the field more.
Morris sounds like he's leaning toward leaving Foster in the game for all defensive snaps, regardless of the availability of Quincy Black, who missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury.
Previously, Foster had been playing only in the Bucs' base defense, giving way to Black in the nickel defense and other packages.
Black will remain the strongside linebacker when he returns, Morris said, meaning Dekoda Watson likely is headed back to the bench. But Black's role could be reduced because of Foster's emergence. On Sunday, Foster had his second sack, a tackle for loss and five tackles.
"There's no doubt about it," Morris said, "Quincy is our starting (strongside) linebacker. Mason certainly made an argument the last two weeks about being the starting (middle linebacker) in the nickel."
PART OF THE PLAN: Morris emphasized Monday that he was willing to live with the numbers posted by Falcons WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones, who combined for 255 yards on 15 catches.
Morris' defensive plan called for an all-out assault on QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner, using linebackers, safeties and, sometimes, CB Ronde Barber to stack the line of scrimmage with defenders.
That left CBs Aqib Talib and E.J. Biggers in single coverage, no small chore against one of the more talented receiver duos. Biggers, who covered White most of the game, was targeted repeatedly and was the defender on most of White's nine receptions for 140 yards.
But Morris said the numbers were inconsequential.
"That's why every week I say stats are for losers," Morris said. "It's all about what you plan on and what you want to do and how you want to go out there and shut somebody down. (Sunday), that was our plan, and they did a nice job."
MONDAY NIGHT MADNESS: The Bucs will make their first appearance in three years on Monday Night Football when the Colts visit Raymond James Stadium next week, and they are very much inviting the spotlight that will shine on the franchise. Also notable is the fact that former Bucs coach Jon Gruden is a member of the ESPN broadcast team.
"Are you kidding me? We love this stage," Morris said. "You're the one team playing and everybody else is watching you. We end (meetings) early on Mondays so we can watch Monday Night Football. We got Jon Gruden coming back to town. With the old boss coming to town, you have to have a good show. He'll be watching me up in that box. I have to make him proud. Monday Night Football is big. It's huge. It always has been."
QUOTABLE: "We're the best team in the NFC … South." — Morris, a variation of his bold comment last season when he declared the Bucs the best team in the NFC. The Bucs are tied with New Orleans for first place in the NFC South.