Buccaneers Start Playoff Push In Arizona

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals and Trace McSorley. In a quarterback matchup that features two quarterbacks on opposite ends of the spectrum.

A Christmas Debut

McSorley, he isn’t just making his Christmas Day debut, but his NFL starting debut.

The Cardinals (4-10) are limping down the stretch, turning to the team’s third-string quarterback. The 27-year-old McSorley has been pushed into a starting role after injuries to Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy.

Despite the long odds, the former Penn State standout says he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“(Brady is) the G.O.A.T. and there’s no two ways to put that, but I’ve just got to focus on what I can control,” McSorley said. “I’m going against their defense, not against him, so that’s kind of the way I try and look at it. But it is cool to kind of look back and realize that I’m starting against him the first time.”

The Cardinals have had their fair share of struggles this season. They enter this game with a 4-10 record and recently lost star quarterback Kyler Murray for the season due to injury. This makes for a perfect bounce back game for Tampa Bay.

The Buccaneers (6-8) have had a tough season but are somehow still clinging to a one-game lead in the mediocre NFC South. The 45-year-old Brady will be making his 331st career start, giving Tampa Bay a wealth of experience as it tries to snap a two-game skid. Will this be the get right game the Bucs desperately need? Or will this be another flop against a less talented team?

The Best Of The Bad

Tampa Bay has dropped three of its past four games, including a 34-23 loss to Cincinnati last weekend. Luckily for the Buccaneers, the Panthers, Saints and Falcons have all had their problems, and sit one game back of Tampa Bay at 5-9.

“Any division you win, regardless of whether you’re 17-0 or whether you’re 4-13, you win the division and you have a division banner,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said. “Then you try out for your next goal to get to the Super Bowl. Our first goal is to win the division, so we’re trying to do that. If we can win the division, then we’ll try and focus on getting playoff games and winning the Super Bowl.”

McSorley was 7-of-15 passing for 95 yards and two interceptions after McCoy left last weekend’s 24-15 loss to the Broncos with a concussion.

Gamer

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said he expects a better performance now that McSorley will get all of the practice reps with first-team offense.

“I hate to use the term gamer, but he’s got a lot of moxie,” Kingsbury said. “He plays with a lot of confidence. Teammates respond to that well. He’s mobile and can move around. He had a couple of throws he’d like to have back, but he had a couple scoring drives and like I said after the game, I just want to see how he does with some reps.”

Help For Trace

McSorley might be inexperienced, but he does have some good players around him.

Three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, running back James Conner and receiver Marquise Brown should all be on the field on Sunday, giving the Cardinals their three top playmakers for one of the few times this season.

Hopkins could still hit 1,000 yards receiving this season despite missing the first six games after being suspended for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Conner has run for 268 yards over his past three games.

The biggest problem for the Cardinals is along the offensive line. At least three starters will be out on Sunday and it will be four depending on the status of right tackle Kelvin Beachum, who is battling knee and ankle injuries.

Uncharacteristic Mistakes

Brady has been among the NFL’s best at protecting the football over the course of a record-breaking 23-year career that’s included seven Super Bowl championships. The league’s all-time leading passer turned the ball over just four times in Tampa Bay’s first 11 games this season, including only two interceptions.

Over the past three games, though, he has seven giveaways, including two picks and a pair of fumbles in last weekend’s 34-23 loss to the Bengals.

“Turnovers hurt any team. It’s hurting us big time, whether it’s the quarterback, whether it’s a fumble by the running backs, whether it’s special teams or whether it’s defense not getting them,” Bowles said.

No Defense

It’s a strange dichotomy for the Cardinals’ defense: Even though several individual players are having good seasons, the group is ranked dead last in the NFL in scoring defense.

Veteran defensive lineman J.J. Watt has had his best season in years with 9 1/2 sacks. Safety Budda Baker was voted to the Pro Bowl and leads the team with 102 tackles. Second-year linebacker Zaven Collins has taken a big jump from his rookie year and is second on the team with 87 tackles.

But as a whole, the Cardinals are giving up 26.6 points per game, which is 32nd out of 32 teams.

Godwin’s Comback

While Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans is closing in on becoming the first player in NFL history to begin a career with at least 1,000 yards receiving in nine consecutive seasons, Chris Godwin has a team-leading 81 catches for 785 yards and three touchdowns. What’s even more impressive about what he’s done is he’s less than a year removed from surgery to repair both the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He has five-plus receptions in 11 straight games, the longest active streak in the league.

“It’s just self-determination. … He tried to get back as fast as he could, he didn’t take days off. He worked overtime, triple-time probably,” Bowles said.

The Cardinals aren’t a good team. There’s a reason they have a 4-10 record and that was with star quarterback Kyler Murray playing for most of the year. Now without him, it’s hard to imagine Arizona posing much of a threat.

Granted, the Buccaneers have lost to some lousy teams this year and have not been impressive with their 6-8 record. Despite that, I think this is a game they should be in complete control of. Especially if they can channel the first half offense we saw against Cincinnati last week.

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AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, and Sports Talk Florida contributed to this report.

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

The Bucs Report/Sports Talk Florida Pregame Show

Gambling Odds

Bucs -7.5
Cardinals +7.5
Over/Under 40.5
Betting odds provided by UnitedGamblers.com

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