TAMPA — No player will be as adversely affected by the Bucs' accelerated bye week as Doug Martin.
His suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs is for three games, not three weeks, meaning he will now miss games against the Bears, Vikings and Giants. Four days after the Bucs host Eli Manning and Co., Martin will make his return for the Oct. 5 game against the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots on Thursday night.
Martin will remain in shape, but by the time he plays, it will have been 40 days since he last participated in a game. For a running back, fresh legs are good, but he also needs the conditioning that comes with game reps.
The Bucs asked the league if Martin could at least have been with the team last week and practiced Wednesday. No dice. It's hard to imagine Martin would be that effective against the Patriots. In a short week, the Bucs won't even have a padded practice.
Martin brought this on himself. His unreliability hurt the team last season as well. But he has done all he can to get mentally and physically healthy, including a 45-day stay at a drug rehabilitation center recommended by the league.
There's debate about whether players suspended for any kind of drug use should be ordered to have no contact with any members of the organization until they complete the terms of their suspension, as they currently are. Even if they can't play, wouldn't the structure and routine of practice benefit their recovery? Of course, the suspension is supposed to be costly, not only financially — Martin will lose $1.235 million — but in having all team activities removed.
The player who stands to benefit the most from Martin's absence is Jacquizz Rodgers. He filled in admirably when Martin was out with a hamstring injury a year ago, but he looks at this as a great opportunity. "I want to do much more than I did a year ago," he said.
Did 'Hard Knocks' cost the team a back?
It's fair to speculate that Hard Knocks might have potentially influenced rookie RB Jeremy McNichols to spurn the Bucs' offer to remain on their practice squad to take the same opportunity with the 49ers.
Having coaches jump down your throat for missed assignments is not new. Having it play out on national television, as happened to McNichols on the HBO show that chronicled the Bucs' training camp, can make friends and family think you're being treated unfairly. Whatever the reason, McNichols wanted a fresh start.
Meanwhile, not all the Bucs were happy about the way they were portrayed on Hard Knocks, including coach Dirk Koetter. He spent most of his appearances screaming at players in practice or games and using profanity. But on balance, Koetter is pretty straightforward and laid back.
"As I said all along, I like the show Hard Knocks; I wish I wasn't in it," he said after the finale aired. "Because everybody that's portrayed in Hard Knocks, that's just a sliver of what they really are. So when someone on the outside says their opinion of anybody because they watched four episodes of Hard Knocks, I laugh … because how do they know?
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"Now, do I think some of those people that they portrayed in that show, that they portrayed them correctly? Yeah. There's other people that I think they portrayed them incorrectly. And I'll keep that opinion to myself on who those are. However I'm viewed, that's how I'm viewed."
Rescheduled Dolphins game sets up brutal stretch
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Greg Auman notes the following about how moving the game in Miami from today to Nov. 11, what was to be the Bucs' bye week, sets up a rare and difficult challenge:
Three straight road games for the Bucs starting in mid November and all against 2016 playoff teams: at Miami, at Atlanta and at Green Bay. The Bucs' history and recent NFL play show that the odds of coming out of a three-game, three-week road trip with more than one win are at best 20 percent.
An unusually high number of teams have three straight games away from home this season: 10 now, including the Bucs, as many as in the previous three seasons combined. Over those past three seasons, the 10 teams facing three straight road games came out of that stretch with more than one win just once. Eight of the teams went 1-2, and a ninth, the 2015 Jaguars, went 0-3. The only winner was the 2014 Bengals, who went 3-0, including a win against a 2-14 Bucs team.
Tampa Bay has played three straight road games just 10 times in its 41 years, and just twice in the past 20 seasons. Only twice have the Bucs posted a winning record in a three-game, three-week road trip: in 2005 and 1979. The 1979 team, which was headed to the playoffs, had three straight road games each decided by a field goal or less. It won 12-10 at the Vikings, lost 17-14 at the Falcons and won 16-14 at the Lions, needing every win to edge the Bears in a tiebreaker to win a division title.
Overall, the 10 Bucs teams to play a three-game, three-week road trip have gone a combined 9-21 in those games.
MVP talk for Winston
Believe it or not, QB Jameis Winston is getting a lot of love nationally, with some such as the NFL Network's Peter Schrager among many predicting that he will be the league's most valuable player. Winston is 23, which would make him among the youngest to win the award: In 1957, Jim Brown won it 21 years, 11 months; 1958, Brown at 22 years, 11 months; 1984, Dan Marino at 23 years, 4 months; 1977, Walter Payton at 23 years, 6 months; 1993, Emmitt Smith at 24 years, 8 months; and 1979, Earl Campbell at 24 years, 10 months.
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow @NFLStroud.