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After 2-game skid, Bucs seem bent on playing faster, fiercer going forward

The reigning Super Bowl champs realize they must practice hard, but play even harder.
Washington tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (83) runs against Bucs inside linebacker Devin White (45) during the first half of Sunday's game in Landover, Md. White had 18 tackles and two sacks, but Washington won, 29-19.
Washington tight end Ricky Seals-Jones (83) runs against Bucs inside linebacker Devin White (45) during the first half of Sunday's game in Landover, Md. White had 18 tackles and two sacks, but Washington won, 29-19. [ TERRANCE WILLIAMS | AP ]
Published Nov. 17, 2021
Updated Nov. 18, 2021

TAMPA — After two straight losses, after viewing film and venting frustration, the reigning Super Bowl champion Bucs seem to have absorbed the message.

They need to start counterpunching far more effectively.

“After being Super Bowl champs last year, every team’s going to give you their best week in and week out,” outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “And we’ve got to be prepared for that.”

In their last two contests, the Bucs haven’t responded in kind to the opponent’s best haymaker. In their Halloween night loss to the Saints, they lacked discipline (11 penalties, 99 yards). In Sunday’s defeat to Washington, they lacked passion.

All of which has reaffirmed that at the height of any profession, especially one as parity-driven as the NFL, downshifting from overdrive can prove costly.

“I mean, that’s all it is,” coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday, two days after acknowledging that his team lacked passion in Sunday’s defeat. “You have to be ready to play on game day. And there were some that weren’t playing as fast as they could — or had.”

But indications this week suggest that after its first losing streak in nearly a calendar year, Arians’ club is ready to pack more of a proverbial wallop moving forward, starting with Monday night’s game against the Giants.

Outside linebackers coach Larry Foote said he sensed a different vibe in Monday’s meetings. Barrett was adamant that the two-game slide “should and will end right here.” Even edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, who lately has made it to game days by not practicing during the week due to a torn rotator cuff, was suited up for Wednesday’s bonus workout.

“I think we feed off our energy and each other’s energy a lot,” said Barrett, who turned 29 Wednesday.

“And there’s some games where it’s clearly evident on film where we didn’t have energy and you could see the result of the game. We know what it is that we’ve got to fix, and we’re going to start working to fix it.”

Work ethic never has been the issue with this team, Arians insists. The recent defeats haven’t illustrated how they’ve practiced. If anything, an understated mantra — practice hard, play harder — hasn’t been totally embraced.

“You don’t play the game at the speed you practice,” Arians said. “You play it a lot faster. We practiced really hard, but it’s not game speed.”

Among those up to speed Sunday: third-year inside linebacker Devin White, who had a career performance (18 tackles, two sacks) aside from the outcome. But because his effort wasn’t matched across the board, the Bucs surrendered the season’s longest drive by time at that time — 10 minutes, 26 seconds — as Washington used 19 plays to march for the game-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

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Washington converted four times on third down (all third and 5 or shorter) on the drive and scored the touchdown — a 1-yard run by Antonio Gibson — on fourth down.

“(White) brings the juice from the beginning of the game to the end of the game,” safety Jordan Whitehead said. “Everybody has to be on that same page.”

If Wednesday’s sights and sound bites are an indicator, that message has resonated.

“We had energy at times in the game last week, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t consistent enough, so that’s why we played the way we played,” Barrett said.

“So once we get our energy going and keep it going for all four quarters, the plays are going to start happening, we’re going to start making our plays, and we’re going to be back to … fun football again.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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