TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay’s bye week comes at a good time for the Buccaneers, who can use the rest to try to get healthier — especially on defense, where the reigning Super Bowl champions have not played up to expectations.
“I feel like the most important thing for us is to get healthy,” linebacker Devin White said after Sunday’s 36-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints — a setback that dropped the Bucs to 6-2.
Although the defense was unable to take advantage of the Saints losing Jameis Winston with a season-ending knee injury or hold a late lead after Tom Brady erased a 16-point deficit, White insisted there’s no reason for alarm.
Tampa Bay still leads the NFC South by a half game and is off to one of the best starts in franchise history. And unlike a year ago, when the Bucs lost three of four leading into their bye week, no one’s questioning whether they’re headed in the right direction.
“We just need to get healthy and play complimentary football to be the best we can be,” White said.
Linebacker Lavonte David returned against the Saints after missing two games with an ankle injury, but cornerbacks Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Richard Sherman remain sidelined.
Linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul continues to play through injury, and a couple key cogs on offense — Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski — are banged up, too.
Coach Bruce Arians hopes the bye week will help the team get healthier. But the Bucs will also look to eliminate costly penalties and other mental mistakes that have undermined the team.
“Players have to take the responsibility to play smarter,” Arians said Monday.
White was flagged three times for personal fouls against the Saints, including a horse-collar tackle that ended Winston’s season and a roughing-passer call for a hit on backup quarterback Trevor Siemian.
Just as disconcerting for the defending champs was an inability to hold off the Saints after regaining the lead in the fourth quarter. Brady’s third turnover — an interception that was returned for a touchdown with the Bucs only needing a field goal to regain the lead — sealed the outcome.
But White said the injury-decimated defense should have been able to close out the Saints, regardless of who was on the field.
“We have new people out there, but new people means new opportunities for people. We all have to play with each other and just be in sync,” White said.
“We had the chance to show up, but as a unit, we didn’t,” the linebacker added. “We let it slip away.”
With Brady leading the league in passing and on pace to throw for more than 50 TDs, the Bucs offense is more than capable of keeping the defending champs in games on days when the defense doesn’t play well.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Penalties continue to be a concern: The Bucs were flagged 11 times for 99 yards on Sunday, with six of the infractions giving the Saints first downs.
Despite injuries, there’s no shortage of playmakers at Brady’s disposal. With Gronkowski and Brown sidelined Sunday, Chris Godwin stepped up with eight receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown.
“Chris is an incredible player. … He played a great game,” Brady said. “All the receivers did.”
Tampa Bay has the NFL’s stingiest run defense, but has allowed nearly 300 yards on the ground the past two games. After allowing 143 yards rushing in a lopsided win over Chicago, the Bucs allowed the Saints to run for 152 yards on 32 attempts.
Arians is hopeful that several key players, including Davis and Murphy-Bunting, will be closer to returning to the lineup following the bye week. “I think we’ll know more when we get back,” the coach said.
7 — Of the 17 interceptions Brady has thrown in 24 regular-season games with Tampa Bay, seven have come during three losses to the Saints.
Following the bye, the Bucs will resume the season at Washington on Nov. 7.
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