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)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers look forward to three-game division gantlet

TAMPA — It's simple math for the first-place Bucs: three consecutive games, multiplied by as many victories, equals winning a tough division.

At least that's the approach defending NFC South champion Tampa Bay (8-3) is taking during its murderer's row of division games: Sunday against New Orleans (5-5), Dec. 8 at Carolina (8-3) and Dec. 14 at Atlanta (7-4).

The Bucs own the tiebreaker over the Panthers and the No. 2 seed in the NFC, so if the season ended today they would have a first-round bye and host the division playoff.

"It's definitely coming down the stretch all across the league, not just in our division," center Jeff Faine said. "Especially for us, with three division games in a row, it's huge. If we can get on a streak here, it can really set us apart from the rest of the division and really set us up pretty nicely for the playoffs. Obviously, the first business is the Saints."

Of course, no NFC South team has defended its title, and there's evidence the division is the league's best.

The NFC South teams are a combined 9-3 nonconference, the best winning percentage of any division. It boasts two 8-3 teams in the Bucs and Panthers, second only in the NFC to the 10-1 Giants. And after New Orleans beat Green Bay on Monday, NFC South teams were a combined 21-2 at home.

"We've got to get real hot right now," Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan said. "This is it, man. We're making a run at the title right now. New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta. Those are three tough teams right now."

After their come-from-behind, 38-20 win at Detroit, the Bucs' attention turned to the Saints. Many planned to watch Monday night's game.

"It's exciting, especially because it's division games," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "Division games in general are exciting, but especially when you've got as much on the line as we do now. I think everybody is excited that we've put ourselves in this position and we kind of control our destiny."

But linebacker Derrick Brooks and coach Jon Gruden won't allow the Bucs to look beyond the Saints on Sunday.

"That gives you guys something to do for three weeks," Brooks told reporters. "It's something for you guys to talk about and write about. For us, it's all about the Saints. Our only division loss, they gave it to us the first game of the season, and we felt we left a lot of plays in New Orleans that could've gone our way. So to me, I start thinking about as soon as the clock hit zero. …We've got to keep our record at home undefeated."

Faine, who played the past two seasons in New Orleans before signing with Tampa Bay as a free agent, says the Saints won't have a letdown.

"Being with that team, regardless where they are in the playoff chase, they're always going to give you their best fight," Faine said. "It's going to be a great, great challenge for us this week, and it's a team very capable of beating us. They have every tool they need. An unbelievable offense. And our offense is definitely going to have to match with them and put some points on the board and take advantage of opportunities."

The Saints beat the Bucs 24-20 at New Orleans in the opener.

"We're all still hanging around … I just have great respect for New Orleans," Gruden said. "I know what kind of personnel they have. (Coach) Sean Payton is a guy I've got a lot of respect for. The Panthers are loaded. Defensively, they're for real. And with Jake Delhomme behind the center, they're a proven winner. And you can't deny that (quarterback) Matt Ryan and Coach (Mike) Smith in Atlanta, with (running back) Michael Turner, they've made some great acquisitions. Their quarterback is dominating the league right now. They're impressive. It's going to be interesting."

A year ago, the Bucs essentially wrapped up the division with several weeks left, resting some injured starters in the final two games. The result was a first-round loss at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.

"There won't be any stumbling this year," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We understand the urgency it's going to take hopefully going into the playoffs. We've got three division opponents coming up. It's going to decide where we are or if we're in the playoffs."


Trio of tests

The Bucs' next three games, all against the NFC South:

Sunday: New Orleans, 1

Dec. 8: at Carolina, 8:30

Dec. 14: at Atlanta, 1

Tampa Bay Buccaneers look forward to three-game division gantlet 11/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 5:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning edges Red Wings on road

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — The digs were different, the Lightning seeing the masterfully-done new Little Caesar's Arena for the first time.

    Lightning center/Red Wings’ killer Tyler Johnson gets past defenseman Trevor Daley on his way to the first goal of the game.
  2. Armwood pulls away to defeat Plant 27-7, remain undefeated


    SEFFNER — First-year Armwood coach Evan Davis pulled out all the stops to get his team psyched for Monday's annual grudge match against Plant.

    Armwood defensive end Malcolm Lamar (97) gets fired up before the start of the game between Plant High School Panthers and the Armwood High School Hawks in Suffer, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.
  3. Bucs journal: Dirk Koetter says Vernon Hargreaves needs to improve


    TAMPA — The Bucs now rank 31st in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 301 yards per game in their 2-3 start, and coach Dirk Koetter was asked Monday how concerned he is with the play of second-year CB Vernon Hargreaves.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick, throwing an incompletion under pressure after replacing injured Jameis Winston against the Cardinals,  would start this Sunday in Buffalo if Winston’s shoulder is still bothering him.
  4. Backhand shot makes Nikita Kucherov's offense even more dangerous

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — Nikita Kucherov is on a historic streak, just the fourth player in the past 30 years to score a goal in each of his first six games.

    Nikita Kucherov’s backhand shot adds to his strong scoring.
  5. Rick Pitino officially fired by Louisville amid federal corruption probe


    In an expected move, the University of Louisville Athletic Association's Board of Directors on Monday voted unanimously to fire men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. The decision came 19 days after Louisville acknowledged that its men's basketball program was being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe and …

    In this Oct. 20, 2016, file photo, Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino reacts to a question during a press conference in Louisville, Ky. Louisville's Athletic Association on Monday officially fired Pitino, nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged that its men's basketball program is being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe. [AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File]