Bucs QB Winston has something to play for against Lions
DETROIT (AP) — Jameis Winston has plenty to play for and Darius Slay does, too.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions have been eliminated from the playoff picture, putting their team goals out of reach.
But Winston and Slay are among a group of players who will have something at stake Sunday at Ford Field and over the last two games of the season.
Winston, who intends to play in Detroit with a small fracture in his right thumb, is in the final year of the contract he signed as the No. 1 pick overall in 2015.
The injury didn’t stop him from throwing for a career-high 456 yards along with four touchdowns in last week’s win against the Indianapolis Colts. But he also tossed three more interceptions to increase his NFL-high total to 23.
Even though his future is up in the air, Winston insisted he’s not thinking about next season.
“I got an opponent to focus on and it’s bigger than me,” he said. “It’s about this team, so we got to focus on how we are going to try to beat the Detroit Lions and whoever our opponent is next week.”
Slay has one more season worth about $10 million on his deal, and there’s a chance the standout cornerback may end up on another team next season. He publicly questioned the decision to trade safety Quandre Diggs to Seattle for a fifth-round pick earlier this season.
Here are some other things to watch when Tampa Bay (6-7) meets the Lions (3-9-1) in the Motor City:
Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans might miss the rest of the season after he pulled a hamstring during a 61-yard TD reception last weekend. He is among the NFL leaders with 1,157 yards receiving and eight touchdown catches.
The absence of the star receiver doesn’t necessarily mean Detroit’s secondary will catch a break. Chris Godwin ranks second in the league with 1,212 yards receiving. With nine receiving touchdowns, he trails only Detroit’s Kenny Gollday in the NFL.
Tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, who scored last week, may get more targets without Evans on the field. Receivers Breshad Perriman and Justin Watson each caught a touchdown pass last weekend and could get an opportunity to score again against the league’s 30th-ranked defense against the pass.
“Nobody is going to be Mike, but just be yourself,” coach Bruce Arians told the receiving corps. “Whoever is playing the position, be yourself, do your job, and catch the damn ball when it’s thrown to you.”
The Lions also lost a key receiver last weekend. Marvin Jones was placed on injured reserve after he hurt his ankle in a loss at Minnesota. He caught 62 passes for 779 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Detroit signed Travis Fulgham off its practice squad to bolster its depth at the position. Veteran receiver Danny Amendola may play a larger role, and running back J.D. McKissic likely becomes an option at slot receiver.
“We’ll be ready to go with whatever we got and work to move forward,” said rookie quarterback David Blough, who will make his third straight start for the injured Matthew Stafford.
For the second year in a row with a second team, Ndamukong Suh is set to face the franchise that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2011. He played with the Los Angeles Rams last year in Detroit before helping them reach the Super Bowl. Now he’s back with the Buccaneers.
The 10th-year pro spent five seasons with the Lions before signing with Miami and spending three seasons with the Dolphins. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle still has friends and fond memories in Detroit.
“Great people there, always showed me love, even when I’m there during the offseason,” Suh said.
He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent last May and has 1½ sacks and 13 quarterback hits. He also has recovered four fumbles, returning two of them for touchdowns.
“He has been playing lights out,” Arians said.
The Lions have lost six straight, five without Stafford, and nine of 10. The tough stretch has increased the heat on coach Matt Patricia.
The former New England defensive coordinator has a 9-19-1 record overall in Detroit. His mentor, Patriots coach Bill Belichick, lost 19 games over his first two years as an NFL head coach in Cleveland and has become one of the game’s greats on the sideline.
“Certainly, there’s inspiration like that I think all the way across the board with a lot of great coaches,” Patricia said.
Even though Tampa Bay will miss the playoffs for a 12th straight season, it can reach .500 in Detroit with a fourth straight win. The Buccaneers can finish the season with a winning record by closing the season with six wins in a row.
Arians, in his first season, is seeing a shift in the team’s culture.
“Just watching our guys and how hard they practiced, in December, really can’t ask for more as a coach,” he said.
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