Strug­gling Bucs not giv­ing up on sea­son

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY FRED GOODALL

With six games re­main­ing in mostly dis­ap­point­ing sea­sons for Tampa Bay and San Fran­cisco, both strug­gling squads are seek­ing an­swers that will help them be­yond 2018.

The odds may be against ei­ther club sal­vaging the year with a play­off berth, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any­thing mean­ing­ful the Buc­ca­neers (3-7) and 49ers (2-8) can ac­com­plish be­gin­ning Sun­day at Ray­mond James Sta­dium.

Tampa Bay is turn­ing back to Jameis Win­ston a month af­ter bench­ing the 2015 No. 1 over­all draft pick with hopes the fourthyear will set­tle a de­bate about whether he’s the right quar­ter­back to lead the fran­chise mov­ing for­ward.

Mean­while, San Fran­cisco re­turns from a bye week dur­ing which coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff did some self-scout­ing. The sec­ond-year coach had a straight-for­ward mes­sage for play­ers when the team re­assem­bled for prac­tice.

“There’s a lot on the line,” Shanahan said. “That’s stuff that is ob­vi­ous. Ev­ery­one knows that, but to state it to guys and just make peo­ple aware be­cause you never as­sume that ev­ery­one knows what you’re talk­ing about. There’s al­ways guys you’ve got to let them know what the deal is in this league.

“You come back and peo­ple might think you don’t have much to play for. You have ev­ery­thing to play for,” the coach added. “You have your ca­reer, you have your liveli­hood, you have the guys next to you and you have show­ing peo­ple that you want to be (with the 49ers). When you start to think of that, you think of all the chal­lenges ahead. I’m ex­cited to do it.”

Win­ston is ex­cited to have

YOU’VE GOT TO WIN. THAT’S ALL THAT MAT­TERS IN THIS LEAGUE.

Bucs QB Jameis Win­ston

an­other op­por­tu­nity as Tampa Bay’s starter. He sat out the first three games of the sea­son while serv­ing a sus­pen­sion for vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s per­sonal con­duct pol­icy, then turned the ball over 11 times in 14 quar­ters af­ter get­ting back on the field.

Ryan Fitz­patrick posted daz­zling pass­ing num­bers dur­ing a 2-0 start, how­ever the 14-year vet­eran has lost his past five starts and the Bucs have dropped seven of eight over­all to jeop­ar­dize their chances of end­ing a 10-year play­off drought.

“I’m just grate­ful that I’m back on the field,” said Win­ston, who re­placed Fitz­patrick dur­ing the sec­ond half of last week’s 38-35 loss to the New York Gi­ants and led four straight touch­down drives to get Tampa Bay back in the game.

Coach Dirk Koet­ter isn’t say­ing if he con­sid­ers the job Win­ston’s for the re­main­der of the sea­son.

“You’ve got to win. That’s all that mat­ters in this league,” Win­ston said. “You can look at stats … but you’ve got to win to be up to the stan­dard of ex­cel­lence we’re held to at this po­si­tion.”

The 49ers lost quar­ter­back Jimmy Garop­polo to a sea­son-end­ing knee in­jury in the third week of the sea­son. Nick Mul­lens, who’ll make his third straight start Sun­day, re­placed an in­jured C.J. Beathard three weeks ago and has gone 1-1 while throw­ing for 512 yards, four touch­downs and two in­ter­cep­tions while beat­ing the Raiders and los­ing to the Gi­ants.

One per­son who’s not sur­prised Mul­lens has re­sponded to the op­por­tu­nity is the quar­ter­back’s for­mer col­lege coach

Todd Monken, who’s now Tampa Bay’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

Monken re­cruited Mul­lens to South­ern Mis­sis­sippi in 2013 and left to join the Bucs in 2016.

“He’s ev­ery­thing you want in a player and as a quar­ter­back,” Monken said. “He’s elite in a lot of ar­eas that are hard to find when it comes to his tough­ness, men­tal tough­ness, his prepa­ra­tion, how much he en­joys play­ing foot­ball and his per­son­al­ity, where guys are go­ing to grav­i­tate to­ward him.

“He’s not a flashy guy, he’s not go­ing to say the wrong thing. He’s just go­ing to work his rear end off. I couldn’t be hap­pier for him. … We wouldn’t have done the things we did at South­ern Miss with­out him. He’s made me a bet­ter coach.”

Some other things to know about the 49ers and Buc­ca­neers:

MORE MUL­LENS: Mul­lens fol­lowed up a record­set­ting de­but with a much more medi­ocre per­for­mance in a loss to the Gi­ants be­fore the bye. Now San Fran­cisco wants to see which ver­sion of Mul­lens shows up against the Bucs.

In his de­but against Oak­land, Mul­lens joined Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Fran Tarken­ton as the only play­ers with at least 250 yards pass­ing, three touch­down passes and no in­ter­cep­tions in their first ca­reer game. He also had the most ef­fi­cient de­but since the merger for a player with at least 20 at­tempts, post­ing a 151.9 rat­ing in the 34-3 win. He fol­lowed that up with two in­ter­cep­tions in the loss to the Gi­ants, but re­mains the starter ahead of Beathard.

PRO­LIFIC NUM­BERS: Tampa Bay has the NFL’s top-ranked pass­ing at­tack (374.6 yards per game) and leads the league in to­tal of­fense (458.5). Turnovers and a por­ous de­fense have hin­dered the team’s suc­cess. The Bucs have a NFL-worst turnover dif­fer­en­tial of mi­nus-23. The de­fense is yield­ing a league-high

32.9 points per game. SOME­THING HAS TO GIVE: The Bucs have been giv­ing the ball away at a stag­ger­ing rate with their 29 turnovers tied for the most through 10 games since 2012. They face a 49ers team that has gen­er­ated only five take­aways, the fewest in the league through 10 games since at least 2000. One of these teams should be able to fix that prob­lem at least for one week on Sun­day.

ADAM HUNGER AP

Buc­ca­neers quar­ter­back JameisWin­ston is ex­pected to start for the fourth time this sea­son Sun­day against the 49ers. Win­ston has thrown eight touch­down passes and 11 in­ter­cep­tions this sea­son.

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