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Bowles says it’s time for buccaneers to decide who they want to be


TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The No. 1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers can’t afford to take anything for granted in the weak NFC South.

Not even with Tom Brady at quarterback.

The Bucs, at least on paper, look talented and competent enough to hold off Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans in a tight division race in which all four teams have lost records with a month left in the regular season.

The reality, however, is an offense led by Brady and a normally reliable injury-weakened defense hasn’t shown consistent signs of being good enough to pull itself together for a solid stretch run.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s humble 35-7 road loss at San Francisco, coach Todd Bowles said it was time for his players to “decide what kind of team we want to be.”

“We can’t be one set of Bucs and another set of Bucs. It has to mean something,” Bowles said of the inconsistency threatening to undermine the season. “We have a one-game lead with four games to go.

“Either we want it or we don’t.”

Twice in the last three weeks, the Bucs (6-7) failed to take advantage of opportunities to distance themselves from the Falcons (5-8) and Panthers (5-8), second.

Atlanta, which has lost its last two games, gained ground on Sunday despite going bye last week. Carolina has won two straight — five of six overall, including a 21-3 home win over Tampa Bay — to get back in the running.

The Bucs, who are 3-1 in the division, play Cincinnati at home next Sunday before playing in Arizona on Christmas Day.

Ultimately, however, the NFC South numbers will be decided when the Bucs face the Panthers at home and the Falcons on the road in the final two weeks of the regular season.

“It’s about doing the right things and following and finishing,” Bowles said Monday of what the Bucs need to do to close strong, win the division and guarantee themselves a playoff home game.

“The conversation part is kind of over,” the coach added. “It’s kind of about producing at this exact moment.”

WHAT WORKS

The offensive line did not allow a sack for the third time this season. Since 2020, when Brady joined the Bucs, Tampa Bay has held bagless opponents a league-high 14 times. Brady attempted 55 passes against the 49ers, who, despite having no sacks, finished with seven quarterback hits and two interceptions.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The defense, once the toughest to face in the NFL, gave up 209 rushing yards. It was Tampa Bay’s second-most allowed in a game since Bowles — the former Jets head coach — joined the Bucs as defensive coordinator in 2019.

STORE

Few things went right in one of the most lopsided losses of Brady’s 23-year career. Bowles cited Deven Thompkins’ debut as the team’s returning player as one of the highlights. The rookie averaged 24.6 yards on five kickoff returns, including a long 54. He returned two punts for 21 yards.

SOLD OUT

LT Donovan Smith was penalized for holding, nullifying a touchdown reception for the second game in a row. The eighth-year professional has been reported to have hit a career-high six times this season.

INJURIES

A secondary already playing without injured starters Antoine Winfield, Jr., Mike Edwards and Sean Murphy-Bunting lost CB Jamel Dean (toe) to the 49ers. DT Vita Vea (calf foul) and LB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (hip) also left Sunday’s game. Bowles said it was too early to predict their status this week.

KEY NUMBER

100 – Brady’s 8-yard pass to Russell Gage was the seven-time Super Bowl champion’s 100th since joining the Bucs. He joined Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Fran Tarkenton and Kurt Warner as the only quarterbacks to throw at least 100 TD passes for multiple teams.

NEXT

Tampa Bay hosts Cincinnati on Sunday. The Bengals (9-4) have won five in a row.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL



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