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Despite struggles, Bucs gearing up for first-place showdown in Atlanta

Notes | Sunday’s win over the Panthers sets up a road matchup with the NFC South-leading Falcons next weekend. Plus, Chris Godwin scores any way he can.
 
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) pushes his way into the end zone to score an early fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday against the Carolina Panthers  at Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) pushes his way into the end zone to score an early fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 4, 2023|Updated Dec. 4, 2023

TAMPA — The Bucs are still alive and kicking in the NFC South. Despite dropping six of their past eight games, Sunday’s 21-18 win over the Panthers set them up for a chance to take over first place when they face the division-leading Falcons next week in Atlanta.

“Coach (Todd) Bowles said it (Saturday) night,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “We have an eight-day window, including (Sunday) that we can be in first place in the division.

“So take care of business next week and see what happens the rest of the way. But it’s a one-game-at-a-time mentality. Our guys came ready to play, and we found a way to win. It doesn’t have to be pretty — a lot of things to correct — but, we found a way to win.”

Mayfield completed 14 of his 29 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. He threw an interception for the fourth straight game.

But as the quarterback said, the Bucs don’t have to look pretty; they just have to survive and advance.

In October, the Falcons visited Raymond James Stadium and grabbed a 16-13 win.

“We’ve talked about it before,” Bucs receiver Chris Godwin said. “Like, we needed to win. We’re in a tough spot right now, but we still have the opportunity to win the division. “We’ve got another big game coming up next week.”

Godwin finds a way

Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) and tight end Cade Otton (88) reacts after Godwin's 19-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin (14) and tight end Cade Otton (88) reacts after Godwin's 19-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

It hasn’t been easy for Godwin to find the end zone this season. The receiver has just one receiving touchdown in 12 games. So, Sunday he did it on the ground.

On third and 2 from the Panthers 19 early in the fourth quarter, Mayfield handed off to Godwin, who took advantage of a block by tight end Cade Otton to score his second career rushing touchdown.

“My initial thought was just trying to get the first down,” Godwin said. “Then when I turned the corner, Cade had a really good block. The reason I scored was because Cade killed his guy. So, I think I think the credit goes to him.”

Godwin previously scored on a 2-yard run against the Rams in 2021. Sunday’s touchdown was big for both him and the Bucs, putting them ahead 21-10.

“That was pretty cool,” he said. “I think I think the best part about it is that it came at a time where we needed a touchdown. We were trying to put the game away.”

Injury report

Bucs linebacker K.J. Britt (52) gets helped off the field after suffering a back injury in the first quarter.
Bucs linebacker K.J. Britt (52) gets helped off the field after suffering a back injury in the first quarter. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The Bucs entered the game missing their top three interior linebackers: Lavonte David (groin), Devin White (foot) and SirVocea Dennis (illness). Then K.J. Britt (back) was carted off the field in the first half.

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“Probably (Monday) I’ll be more concerned about it,” Bowles said, “but I am going to let it go for a couple of hours and deal with it (Monday).”

Bowles had no update on Britt but said he is optimistic the Bucs will have at least one linebacker back for the Falcons game.

“SirVocea should be,” Bowles said. “His was just a freak thing. He was sick. He was just down and out. I’ll see about Lavonte and Devin.

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