‘Don’t stink again’ one goal in Ari­zona

Tampa Bay Times - - Sports - BY GREG AUMAN Times Staff Writer

The more-con­fi­dent Bucs re­turn to the site of their most em­bar­rass­ing 2016 loss .

TAMPA — The last time the Bucs went to Ari­zona, it was, by most mea­sures, the low point of their 2016 sea­son, a hum­bling 40-7 loss to the Car­di­nals.

“Last year was un­for­tu­nate for us,” said quar­ter­back Jameis Win­ston, who had a ca­reer-high five turnovers, in­clud­ing four in­ter­cep­tions, in what re­mains the low­est-rated game of his three-year NFL ca­reer. “The turnovers kind of put us out of it. … Turn­ing the ball over was the big­gest part.”

The fi­nal score ob­scures that late in the first half, the Bucs were at the Ari­zona 29-yard line, threat­en­ing to cut into a 10-0 deficit. But Win­ston was sacked and fum­bled, and Ari­zona scored two more touch­downs in the fi­nal 90 sec­onds of the half, lead­ing 24-0 at the break.

Ari­zona also re­turned a Win­ston in­ter­cep­tion 60 yards for a touch­down in the third quar­ter. The 33-point loss

is the Bucs’ most lop­sided since Win­ston and coach Dirk Koet­ter joined the team in 2015.

“They beat us. They beat us good. We re­mem­ber. It stings,” Koet­ter said. “I don’t think de­fen­sively we’re any­where close to the same team we were last year. I think we’re a much more con­fi­dent de­fense.”

Much of that im­prove­ment came in the sec­ond half of last sea­son, with the de­fense fu­el­ing a five-game win­ning streak that had the Bucs in play­off con­tention in De­cem­ber. Play­ers re­mem­ber how poorly their last game in Ari­zona went, but go there hop­ing for a vastly dif­fer­ent out­come when they re­turn to face the Car­di­nals on Sun­day.

“That’s the talk around the build­ing, how we went up there and stunk it up,” de­fen­sive tackle Clin­ton McDon­ald said. “We want to per­form well ev­ery game. We don’t want to be up and down, one week we win, one week we lose. We want to be con­sis­tent. That’s the truest mea­sure of a man’s men­tal tough­ness is his con­sis­tency.”

In last year’s game, the Bucs’ de­fense, still learn­ing co­or­di­na­tor Mike Smith’s scheme, gave up two 50-yard passes and al­lowed Car­son Palmer to throw for three touch­downs in the sec­ond quar­ter alone. Win­ston was sacked three times, and if you ask tackle Dono­van Smith what the Bucs need to do dif­fer­ently this time, he’s frank about it.

“Ev­ery­thing,” Smith said. “We got han­dled last year. Our job is ob­vi­ously not to let that hap­pen again.”

Said of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Monken: “We didn’t play our best football. We de­served that beat­down. We turned it over. The game was still in the bal­ance, and we did ev­ery­thing we could to give them the game.”

The Bucs lost more than a game in Ari­zona last year. Run­ning back Doug Martin suf­fered a ham­string in­jury and missed the next six games, and de­fen­sive end Robert Ay­ers missed the next four games with an an­kle in­jury.

Martin re­turned last week from a four-game sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the league’s per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing-drugs pol­icy and adds bal­ance to the of­fense. Ay­ers wants the Bucs to show more of what they’re ca­pa­ble of be­ing this time around.

“We took one on the chin (last year),” Ay­ers said. “I got hurt that game, so there’s def­i­nitely mo­ti­va­tion to come back from that. But it’s big­ger than that. I’m a ter­ri­ble loser, so I hate that. They did beat us pretty good, but the big­gest thing is we want to get a win against a team that’s try­ing to get go­ing in their sea­son, too.”

As­so­ci­ated Press (2016)

The Bucs de­fense, still learn­ing new co­or­di­na­tor Mike Smith’s sys­temin the 2016 sea­son’s sec­ond game, gave up 40 points to the Car­di­nals.

As­so­ci­ated Press (2016)

Jameis Win­ston had a ca­reer-high five turnovers vs. Ari­zona last year. “The turnovers kind of put us out of it,” he says.

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