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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087


Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

  1. Scouting the NFC South




    WR Julio Jones still ranks among the league's top receivers, but his status has taken a bit of a hit. He has gone the past seven games without a touchdown catch. That's the longest stretch of his career. Jones hasn't reached the end zone since his two-touchdown game against the Bucs in Week 3. Jones will try to rebound this week, even though he was sidelined from practice with the flu. "It's been kind of difficult," WR Roddy White told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Going through plays and stuff, we've got people moving around. He's just got to get healthy."...

    ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 18: Wide receiver Julio Jones #11 of the Atlanta Falcons walks off the field following a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
  2. NFL predictions



    Lions at Patriots, 1 | Patriots by 7, 48

    In back-to-back games, New England has earned double-digit wins over Peyton Manning's Broncos and Andrew Luck's Colts to establish itself as the team to beat in the AFC. And the Patriots did it last week because of unknown RB Jonas Gray (four rushing TDs). But Detroit's defense is much tougher to crack. The Lions have allowed only three quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards, and only two running backs have rushed for at least 60 this year. Matt Baker's pick: Patriots, 24-21...

  3. 1,000-yard rushers becoming scarce in NFL


    Dallas running back DeMarco Murray has already rushed for more than 1,000 yards and continues to make a run at the eighth 2,000-yard season in NFL history.

    As Murray charges toward history, the rest of the league's running backs have struggled to catch up.

    Through Week 11, Murray is one of only 10 backs who are on pace to cross the 1,000-yard milestone. That would be the lowest total since 1994....

    Dallas DeMarco Murray is one of 10 backs on pace to reach 1,000 yards this season. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
  4. With Doug Martin back, Bucs' backfield gets crowded


    TAMPA — Before the season began, Bucs coach Lovie Smith was envisioning his team's offense with running back Doug Martin firmly entrenched as the bell-cow ball carrier.

    Then injuries happened to Martin, first to a knee, then to an ankle, sidelining the former Pro Bowl player for five of the first 10 games.

    But Martin looked healthy running off the practice field Friday and was expected to return to action Sunday in Chicago, leaving the coaching staff with some of the toughest roster decisions it has had to make....

    When healthy, the Bucs’ committee of running backs has, from left, Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James.
  5. Lavonte David misses Bucs practice


    TAMPA — LB Lavonte David missed Thursday's practice with a sore hamstring, Bucs coach Lovie Smith said.

    The league's co-leader in combined tackles (116) was limited in Wednesday's practice, and Smith said the team was taking every precaution with David, an All-Pro selection last season.

    "Lavonte hasn't missed a practice since I've been here," Smith said. "That in itself is news. He normally bounces back fairly quick."...

    Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, pursuing the Ravens’ Justin Forsett, is taking every precaution with his sore hamstring. “He normally bounces back fairly quick,” Bucs coach Lovie Smith says.
  6. Leslie Frazier: MIchael Johnson playing through broken hand


    TAMPA – Defensive end Michael Johnson has been playing through a broken hand, Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Thursday....

  7. Chiefs-Raiders Thursday night preview


    Tonight: Chiefs at Raiders

    When/where: 8:25; Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

    TV/radio: NFL Network; 1010-AM (joined in progress on 98.7-FM)

    Line/OU: Chiefs by 7½; 42½

    Oakland's 16-game losing streak is the fourth longest in NFL history. The Raiders (0-10) already have been eliminated from playoff contention. It's hard to imagine tonight being the streak stopper. The Chiefs have won five in a row, and the league's best statistical passing defense could be a problem for rookie quarterback Derek Carr....

  8. Bucs' Mike Evans is NFC offensive player of week


    TAMPA — After piling up 209 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's win at Washington, Bucs rookie WR Mike Evans was named the NFC offensive player of the week.

    "I'm grateful for the award, and I'm happy that my performance helped the team get a win," Evans said.

    Evans is the third Bucs rookie to win the honor, following RB Doug Martin in 2012 and RB Warrick Dunn in 1997. ...

    Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans is honored for his 209 yards and two TDs versus Washington.
  9. Lovie Smith: DEA search a 'non-issue'


    TAMPA — Coach Lovie Smith doesn't expect a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation to linger around the Bucs past Sunday's brief airport stop.

    "No distraction at all, at any level," Smith said Monday. "It's a non-issue with us. I'm sure they had their reasons for carrying out those searches — throughout the league, I might add. For us, it's kind of on to Chicago."...

    Bucs coach Lovie Smith said a DEA search of the Bucs was a “non-issue” and noted that several other teams were also checked. [Getty Images] 
  10. Tony Stewart finds a victory amid disappointing season

    Auto racing

    HOMESTEAD — Tony Stewart capped off a disappointing year with an all-and-nothing day.

    Stewart finished last as a driver but enjoyed victory circle as the co-owner for race and series champion Kevin Harvick.

    "I think more than anything, I'm happy for this organization and happy for this team," Stewart said. "It's not about me right now. It's about us as a group."

    Harvick's championship was the second for Stewart-Haas Racing — Stewart won one as a driver/owner in 2011. Stewart called the victory a "game changer" for Harvick, who had been regarded as one of the best drivers without a series title....

    Kevin Harvick, left, and team co-owner Tony Stewart celebrate in Victory Lane after Harvick won the Ford EcoBoost 400 and the Sprint Cup title.
  11. Kevin Harvick takes race, Sprint Cup championship

    Auto racing

    HOMESTEAD — When NASCAR changed its championship format, it didn't have in mind scenes like Saturday night: Kevin Harvick, drained from nine pressure-packed races, falling asleep during the Florida State-Miami game.

    What the sport envisioned with its revamped Chase to the Sprint Cup was more like what happened Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway: a drama-filled shootout among the final four championship contenders....

    Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Getty Images
  12. No doubt, No. 1 FSU always finds a way


    MIAMI — Florida State center Cameron Erving stopped himself midway through his answer about personnel changes if the Seminoles make the college football playoff.

    "If?" Erving asked.

    Among Las Vegas odds­makers and the playoff committee, "if" remains in play, even after the defending national champion extended the nation's longest winning streak to 26 games with Saturday night's 30-26 come-from-behind win over Miami....

    "Teams just come out ready to play us ..." defensive back Jalen Ramsey said. "We have to learn to match their intensity from the first snap." [AP photo]
  13. FSU Seminoles rally by Miami Hurricanes


    MIAMI — Midway through the third quarter at Sun Life Stadium, No. 2 Florida State found itself in a much too familiar position — trailing, with the nation's longest winning streak at stake.

    "We needed a break, you know?" quarterback Jameis Winston said.

    And they got one, off the hands of Miami defensive end Tyriq McCord.

    The Jefferson High alum batted Winston's third-down pass and into the arms of Karlos Williams, whose touchdown helped turn a 16-point deficit into a 30-26 FSU win over the Hurricanes on Saturday night. ...

    FSU’s Ronald Darby jumps onto fellow DB Jalen Ramsey after Ramsey’s game-ending interception.
  14. FSU wins ACC Atlantic Division


    MIAMI — No. 2 Florida State crossed off one of its preseason goals before Saturday night's game against the Hurricanes started.

    With No. 18 Clemson's 28-6 loss at Georgia Tech in the afternoon, the Seminoles clinched the ACC Atlantic Division title and a spot in the conference title game in Charlotte, N.C.

    FSU is guaranteed a third consecutive appearance in the conference title game and its fourth in the past five seasons. The Seminoles have won the past two ACC titles and have won the league 14 times in program history....

    On the go: Florida State’s Jameis Winston rears back to pass in the first half against Miami.