Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Bears: How Irma alters the opener

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We now know the when and where of the Bucs' season opener — at 1 p.m. Sunday at home against the Bears, as scheduled. So there are other questions to be answered as the Bucs get back in town and players prepare for their first game in at least three weeks.

 

Exactly how long has it been since the Bucs played in a game?

NFL teams typically rest starters in the final week of preseason, so it's usually two weeks of rest before a season opener. The Bucs had their Week 1 game at Miami postponed due to Hurricane Irma, so it's now three weeks. Eight starters with injuries were held out of the third preseason game. For those eight — receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, offensive linemen Demar Dotson and Kevin Pamphile, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, defensive end Will Gholston, linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Brent Grimes — it will be a calendar month between their last game action and Sunday's opener.

It's a chance for injuries to heal — all 53 players on the active roster were able to practice Wednesday — but it's an unusually long period to go without playing before a season opener. You'll be hearing a lot about "rust versus rest."

 

What about just practicing to prepare for the Bears?

The Bucs got pinched by NFL regulations. Once the opener was postponed, Week 1 became a bye week, and teams are mandated to give players four consecutive days off during a bye week. That meant players were off from Thursday to Sunday, and knowing the logistics of return travel during the storm, they shifted their normal day off -— again, not their choice — to Monday. Now Tuesday is the travel day, with the hopes of being able to have the key game-week practice days — today and Thursday, with probably more on Friday than usual.

 

Are the Bucs generally better after a bye week, when they have more rest and prep time than their opponent?

Over the last five years, the Bucs are 2-3 immediately after a bye week. Last year, they pulled away to a 34-17 win against a bad 49ers team, but the previous three years, Tampa Bay took losses after its bye: the huge "You like that?" Redskins comeback in 2015, an overtime loss to the Vikings in 2014 and a 31-20 loss to the Eagles in 2013. Bucs fans want a rerun of 2012, when they came off the bye with a 38-10 domination of the Chiefs.

 

What did Sunday tell us about the Bears?

Chicago went 3-13 last year, and gave the Bucs their easiest win of 2016, a 36-10 romp where the Bears' only touchdown came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. But they held their own against Atlanta on Sunday — trailing 20-10 in the fourth quarter, they got a touchdown pass from ex-Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon, who then led them 77 yards to the Falcons' 5-yard line, only to miss on three straight throws for a potential go-ahead touchdown, then get sacked on fourth down.

Chicago has lost two top receivers for the season, so the Bears are hurting there. Boca Ciega's Josh Bellamy had three catches Sunday. And watch out for Kendall Wright, who has come up big in Bucs season openers at Raymond James Stadium. Two years ago, he had a 52-yard touchdown catch from Marcus Mariota less than two minutes into the Bucs' season as Tennessee routed the Bucs in Jameis Winston's NFL debut.

 

Who else is making a homecoming against the Bucs?

Glennon is the main one, having scored a huge payday from the Bears after barely playing in the last two seasons as Winston's top backup.

He's held off rookie Mitch Trubisky to keep his window on the starting job open — he went 26-for-40 for 213 yards and a touchdown in his Bears debut. He'll be motivated to play well in his return, but the Bucs defense also knows him well.

Kicker Connor Barth, cut in spring 2016 after the Bucs drafted Roberto Aguayo, is now Chicago's kicker, and the Bears claimed long-snapper Andrew DePaola, the Bucs' snapper for the past three years, when he was waived in Tampa Bay's final cuts.

The Bucs are confident in veteran Nick Folk taking over as their kicker, but they'll have another kicker eager to prove something on the same field Sunday.

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com. Follow @gregauman

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