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After consecutive slow starts, can Bucs defense burst out of the gate Sunday?

The Jets and Panthers both scored touchdowns on their opening drive against Tampa Bay
Bucs outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (9) works to disrupt a pass play by Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) late in last week's game. Carolina scored a touchdown on a 14-play drive to open the game before the Bucs rallied for a 41-17 victory.
Bucs outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (9) works to disrupt a pass play by Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) late in last week's game. Carolina scored a touchdown on a 14-play drive to open the game before the Bucs rallied for a 41-17 victory. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 13|Updated Jan. 14

TAMPA — Now that the Bucs collectively have turned the page to the postseason, fans can only hope the defense doesn’t flip back a chapter, to the storyline of the previous two games.

Crisp starts, a prerequisite in the playoffs, haven’t manifested themselves for coordinator Todd Bowles’ unit the previous two weekends. In the Bucs’ 28-24 win against the Jets on Jan. 2, New York scored touchdowns on its first two drives, of 67 and 78 yards.

Then Sunday, the Panthers marched 75 yards in 14 plays to open the game, scoring on a short Sam Darnold touchdown throw. Their next drive stalled inside the Bucs 40-yard line, but not before they ran 10 plays.

“It’s all execution,” Bowles said Thursday. “We do good on first, second down, and then we jump offside, or we’ll mess something up on third down or one of the other downs. It’s all execution.”

With some lack of discipline interspersed.

On the opening drive against the Jets, Ndamukong Suh and rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka were whistled offside in a five-play span. On Sunday, Vita Vea’s neutral-zone infraction on third and 4 near midfield gave the Panthers a fresh set of downs.

Toss in injuries and periodic shoddy tackling, and Bowles’ unit finds itself under deep scrutiny as it prepares for Sunday’s wild-card game against the Eagles, who enter with the NFL’s No. 1 run offense (159.7 yards per game). On the encouraging side for the Bucs, Lavonte David (foot) and Shaquil Barrett (knee) are eligible to come off injured reserve, and edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) is expected to make his first game appearance in nearly a month.

“We’ve just got to constantly work on the fundamentals,” said Bowles, whose defense has allowed 260 total rushing yards in the last two games. “Obviously hitting the bags and getting in running position, and really, it just comes to a lot of breaking-down tackling instead of running by guys. Gathering our feet and keeping our feet underneath us and bringing shoulders — it’s just all fundamental work.”

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

Related: Bucs sign journeyman receiver John Brown to practice squad as injuries mount

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