TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Todd Bowles’ message was short and to the point.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have dropped three of four games following a 2-0 start. The latest was a 16-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, who overcame three turnovers in the red zone to not only stop an eight-game road losing streak but replace the Bucs (3-3) at top of the NFC South standings.
“Can’t let one loss turn into two. We've got a game in a couple of days. We've got to get ready for that,” Bowles said, looking ahead to only having three days to prepare to face Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night.
“It’s going to take everybody, from a mental approach, to be mentally tough,” the coach added. “As bad as this one was, we can’t let it affect the next one.”
There’s plenty to address in the short amount of time the Bucs have before boarding a flight for Buffalo on Wednesday, including a sputtering offense that has scored two touchdowns and 30 points total in three losses.
Tampa Bay’s defense has been good statistically, but not nearly as dependable as it needs to be in crucial moments of games while allowing only 17.3 points per game — seventh fewest in the NFL.
“We focus on us. We’ve made enough mistakes (that we need) to focus on us,” Bowles said, addressing a question about the focal point of preparation for the Bills (4-3), who’ve had some offensive woes of their own lately.
“We can’t play Buffalo plus Tampa,” the coach added. “We've got to get Tampa under control before we can handle Buffalo, so we focus on us.”
With the exception of a couple of lapses that could have changed the outcome, the defense played fairly well in defeat. Atlanta’s 16 points were the second-fewest the Bucs have allowed this season. The Falcons scored one touchdown in five red-zone opportunities and only averaged 4.1 yards per rushing attempt on 38 carries. That’s Atlanta’s fewest yards per carry in a game in which they’ve had at least 38 attempts since Week 15 of the 2002 season. With the game on the line, though, the defense yielded TE Kyle Pitts’ 39-yard catch-and-run, which set up Younghoe Koo’s 51-yard winning field goal as time expired.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The running game remains a problem. The Bucs rushed for 73 yards on 20 carries against Atlanta, with 31 of that coming on Baker Mayfield’s fourth-quarter scramble — the quarterback’s longest run since his rookie season in 2018.
P Jake Camarda. He has been one of the team’s most consistent players. He punted three times against the Falcons, averaging 48 yards per kick and had one downed at Atlanta’s 7-yard line. Camarda leads the NFL with a 52.9 gross average, and his 43.7 net average is fifth among players with at least 25 punts.
Offensive Line. The group up front continues to struggle to open holes for a rushing attack that’s averaging 3.1 yards per carry. The unit has allowed just eight sacks, however Mayfield’s mobility has helped in that regard. Bowles said Monday he is not contemplating any lineup changes.
DT Vita Vea (foot) played Sunday against the Falcons after being listed as questionable. ... There was no update Monday on the status of S Kaevon Merriweather (ankle), who was injured on special teams.
15 — WR Mike Evans scored on a 40-yard reception against the Falcons, the 15th TD catch of 40-plus yards in his career since entering the NFL in 2014. That’s tied for the fifth-most in the league during that stretch. It was also the 85th TD reception of Evans’ career, tied with Hines Ward and Hall of Famers Lance Alworth and Paul Warfield for 18th-most all-time.
The Bucs are 3-0 on the road, compared to 0-3 at home. That trend will be tested Thursday night at Buffalo.
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