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Red-hot Buccaneers Not Looking Past Falcons To Playoffs

Red-hot Buccaneers Not Looking Past Falcons To Playoffs

Bruce Arians is not ready to reflect on the challenge of transforming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into winners.

TAMPA, Fla.: Bruce Arians is not ready to reflect on the challenge of transforming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into winners.

With the 68-year-old coach and six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady leading the way, the Bucs (10-5) are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. They enter Sundays regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons as one of the hottest teams in the NFC.

A fourth consecutive win would clinch their best finish in 15 years, as well as send them into the postseason as a No. 5 seed.

I think our guys made a commitment in August to each other, that if we beat the virus, wed have a chance. If we stayed healthy, wed have a chance to beat some teams that didnt, Arians said.

This is a big game coming up a chance to keep that five seed and go 11-5, the coach added. I think well think about all that when we can look in the rearview mirror. Right now, were still looking ahead. Its not really a time to reflect yet.

Brady said its vital to finish strong, continuing to build momentum for the playoffs.

We were 7-5 at the bye week and then won three straight, the 43-year-old quarterback said. Its been really important, and weve got another big one … against Atlanta. Whatever happens after that is bonus for all of us.

The Falcons (4-10) are wrapping up a season that claimed the jobs of former coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after an 0-5 start. The team has gone 4-5 under interim coach Raheem Morris, including a 31-27 loss at home to Tampa Bay two weeks ago.

The Bucs trailed by 17 before Brady led scoring drives on five consecutive second-half possessions to win the game.

Atlanta played reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City tough before falling 17-14 on the road last week.

Morris said one of the things hell remember most about a season in which the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges on and off the field for all teams is the consistent effort of the Falcons in the face of adversity.

These guys play hard every single week, Morris said. You can question a lot of things about a team, you can question a lot about talent, you can question a lot about decision making, you cannot question these guys effort.

SUBPAR YEAR

Defensive end Dante Fowler struggled after signing a $45 million, three-year contract with the Falcons in free agency. He was coming off an 11-sack season with the Los Angeles Rams, but was slowed by ankle and hamstring injuries in addition to spending time on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

We have to get him going, Morris said.

I was pretty banged up this year, but thats no excuse. Im still held to a standard. This year I dont feel like I played up to my standards, said Fowler, who has two sacks. Whether I was hurt or not, I can play better and I will get better.

MACKS FUTURE

Count quarterback Matt Ryan among the Falcons hoping the team brings back center Alex Mack, a six-time Pro Bowl selection whose contract expires after the season.

Hes meant a ton. Hes an awesome teammate. He gives you everything hes got mentally, physically, emotionally. Every ounce of what he has, hes given to our team week in and week out, Ryan said.

Ive been lucky to have spent five years with him. It goes by quickly, Ryan added. I feel like he just got here.

Mack is on the injury report after missing the Kansas City game with a concussion. He was a limited participant in practice early in the week.

LETS PLAY

Despite clinching a playoff berth already, Arians said the Bucs will play to win the finale and clinch the No. 5 seed in the NFC.

When you make these decisions and Ive been a part of both sides that five and six seed are different. I dont care what anybody says, theyre different. And, 10-6 (vs.) 11-5 are different, Arians said. Ive been 10-6 a bunch, been 10-6 and didnt make the playoffs. Eleven and five is special. I think our guys are more than ready to go.

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