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Bucs-49ers is a matchup of turnover-margin futility

It might be fitting that the game between the NFL's two most giving teams will be played on Thanksgiving weekend.
The Bucs' 23 interceptions are a big reason why their minus-23 turnover margin is one of the worst in NFL history. [AP Photo/Bill Kostroun]
The Bucs' 23 interceptions are a big reason why their minus-23 turnover margin is one of the worst in NFL history. [AP Photo/Bill Kostroun]
Published Nov. 20, 2018|Updated Nov. 20, 2018

TAMPA — It might be fitting that the game between the NFL's two most giving teams will be played on Thanksgiving weekend.

When the Bucs host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, it will feature the teams with the worst turnover margin in the league.

After recording four turnovers with no takeaways, the Bucs own a league-worst minus-23 turnover margin, which — in the eyes of the Bucs coaches — is the single-biggest reason they will enter Sunday having lost seven of their past eight and currently sit with a 3-7 record.

"This is working hand in hand, it's a two way street," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "The whole turnover-margin thing, those things are proven over time that if you win the turnover margin, or are even even in the turnover margin, the winning percentage is going to go up. If you're plus in the turnover margin, your winning percentage is going to go up."

The 49ers are second-to-last in turnover margin with a minus-15. No other NFL team owns a turnover differential worse than a minus-9, so these two teams stand out in giving the football away more than they take it.

The Bucs have just six takeaways, and they do not have a defensive takeaway since Justin Evans' interception in the first quarter of the Week 3 Monday Night Football loss to Pittsburgh, so Tampa Bay will go into Sunday with a streak of 32 straight quarters without a takeaway.

Tampa Bay doesn't have any sort of takeaway — their last one was a fumble recovery on special teams against Cleveland on Oct. 21 — in four straight games, which is the longest streak without a takeaway in the NFL this season.

It shouldn't be considered a coincidence that the Bucs won both games in which they had multiple takeaways — they had two fumble recoveries in season-opening wins over New Orleans and Philadelphia.

The 49ers have just five takeaways this season but have a multiple-takeaway game more recently, recording an interception and fumble recovery in their 18-15 loss to Arizona three weeks ago.

"It's boggling on both ends that we have that few takeaways and that many giveaways," Koetter said. "It's a ridiculous number for it to be that much. What's even crazier is that we play a team coming up this week that has one fewer takeaway than we do, which seems impossible. But it is a fact."

While these are the two worst teams this season, the Bucs' current turnover margin is historically bad. The only team to have a worse turnover differential through its first 10 games since the merger is the 1970 Buffalo Bills, who began the season 3-6-1 after posting a minus-24 turnover margin. They finished 3-10-1.

And among the 25 teams since the merger to have turnover margins of minus-16 or worse over their first 10 games, only one — the 1971 49ers (6-4) — owned a winning record.

The Bucs are also within reach of the worst full-season turnover margin in NFL history — the minus-30 posted by the 1948 Chicago Rockets — but keep in mind that was in a 14-game season.

What makes these teams' lopsided turnover margins so large is as much the turnovers they've committed as the takeaways they haven't forced. For the Bucs, it's the league-high 23 interceptions quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have thrown that make up the majority of their league-high 29 turnovers. No other team has thrown more than 16 interceptions.

By comparison, San Francisco has just 12 interceptions along with eight fumbles lost.

Winning the turnover battle has correlated with winning games. Among the eight current division leaders in the NFL, the Steelers are the only team with a negative turnover differential.

"We've had a long, long streak of games here where we're in the minus column on the turnover ratio," Koetter said. "It's not like its just minus-one. It's just a significant stat, and it's the No. 1 thing that's hurting our team, so I'm obviously not doing a good enough job of emphasizing it, coaching it or whatever, but that's where we're at."

Within the Bucs locker room, there is some optimism that if the Bucs can move toward evening their lopsided turnover margin, they still can salvage this season.

"We've got six games left, and we realize one of the biggest reasons we're losing football games is that we're beating ourselves," offensive tackle Demar Dotson said  "So if we can stop beating ourselves, we can win some football games, and I think the biggest thing that coach is harping on and he's really frustrated about because we have a team that can move the ball up and down the field. But it's not generating into wins because we're doing things that are shooting ourselves in the foot. If we can stop shooting ourselves, we can perhaps see what the score's gonna be at the end of the game."

Reach Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.


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