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Bucs season may be at a crossroads against Giants on Monday Night Football

After losing two in a row last season, Tampa Bay won its last eight games, including Super Bowl 55.
Bucs linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (90) celebrates after sacking quarterback Justin Fields on a fourth-down play during a victory over the Bears last month at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay has lost two games since that 38-3 victory over Chicago.
Bucs linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (90) celebrates after sacking quarterback Justin Fields on a fourth-down play during a victory over the Bears last month at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay has lost two games since that 38-3 victory over Chicago. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 21
Updated Nov. 21

TAMPA ― What used to be commonplace for a forlorn franchise is now considered a calamity. The Bucs are trying to avoid a three-game losing streak, something they never experienced during the magical 2020 Super Bowl season.

Outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul said he knew every team would stretch the yard markers and try to measure themselves against the world champions this season.

“Everybody is going to give us their best shot,” Pierre-Paul said. “I knew that from the get-go since we came back here. They’re going to give us their best shot. We’ve just got to figure out a way to give them our best shot.”

Pierre-Paul’s former squad, the New York Giants, are winners of two of their past three games and will be just the latest team taking a swing at the Bucs on Monday Night Football.

Regardless of their records, the Bucs have struggled against the Giants and quarterback Daniel Jones. They were 5-2 and favored by double digits, while the Giants were 1-6 when the teams met on MNF a year ago

If not for a break-up of a two-point try by safety Antoine Winfield Jr. at a pandemic-empty MetLife Stadium ― and refs picking up a flag for pass interference ― the Bucs would not have escaped with a 25-23 win.

In fact, this will mark the fifth straight season the Bucs and Giants have met, with the previous four games being decided by three points or fewer.

“Every time it seems like we play the Giants it’s always a good game,” safety Jordan Whitehead said. “We know they’re going to give us their best shot, and we’re coming off two losses so this week preparation has to be very key, very tuned-in. I think it’s going to be a good test for us.”

A year ago, after suffering back-to-back losses to the Rams and Chiefs to fall to 7-5, the Bucs regrouped during the bye week and gathered momentum to win eight straight games, including a 31-9 romp over Kansas City in Super Bowl 55.

But injuries, penalties and turnovers have combined to dampen the Bucs’ 6-1 start this season — the best in club history — with back-to-back losses to the Saints and Washington.

Hope for a turnaround, of course, rests on the right arm of 44-year-old quarterback Tom Brady.

Unbelievably, Brady has lost three consecutive games only once in his 21-year NFL career and not since 2002. His four interceptions in the past two games contributed to those losses and were one more than he threw in the first seven contests combined.

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In fact, no player was more upset following the 29-19 upset at Washington than Brady, who excused himself from a terse post-game news conference after about 90 seconds and volleying six questions.

”Our job is to go out and try to win the football game,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “It’s your guys’ job to talk about if we’re struggling and if we’re playing well. ... But for us, we just try to go out and play good football every time we step on the grass, and when we don’t do that, it’s disappointing.”

Tampa Bay still owns a one-game lead over the Saints in the NFC South, but its season is at a crossroads. The Bucs visit the Colts next Sunday, then play at Atlanta before returning home to host the Bills and Saints.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians said he believed there was a lack of urgency and energy in his team last Sunday at Washington, as they fell behind 16-3 in the first half and then rallied to make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter before allowing a 19-play TD drive that melted 10:26 off the clock.

“I feel what he said,” linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “We most definitely had a great week of practice, and we went out there and probably thought it was going to continue over. But we still had to put the work in by just focusing and executing everything.

“We didn’t do that at all. That’s why we we’re on a two-game slide right now. But with the leadership we have and the coaches we have, it should and will end right there. We’re going to go back and work through everything like we’re supposed to and come out and try to take care of business on Monday.”

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