When Winston wasn’t winging it and keeping plays alive with his unworldly pocket presence and footwork, he was facing a world of hurt at the hands of David Irving. With DeMarcus Lawrence sitting this one out, Irving, an undrafted second-year end, filled in more than admirably, deflecting one of Winston’s passes, sacking him twice and hitting him five times. Along with linebacker Justin Durant, who was Dallas’ standout pass rusher on the night, and the inimitable Sean Lee, Irving led a Dallas front seven that unnerved Winston at key points in the second half and kept him from leading a comeback.
With the win Dallas kept its distance from the sneaky Giants, who moved to 10-4 with their win over Detroit, in the NFC East. The Cowboys can clinch the division, a first-round bye and home-field advantage with a win over the Lions on Monday Night Football next week. The Bucs, on the other hand, are in murkier territory. The loss knocks Tampa Bay out of the immediate playoff picture with the Redskins (7-5-1), still to play Monday, taking their spot in the sixth seed. The Bucs finish with two NFC South opponents: New Orleans, whom they beat in Week 14, and Carolina at home.
The Panthers strengthened the offensive line with the addition of left tackle Matt Kalil and bolstered the defense with the returns of Julius Peppers and Captain Munnerlyn to go along with the signing of two-time Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams. Questions remain, though, with Cam Newton unable to throw for the next three months following shoulder surgery and All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly coming off of a concussion that prematurely ended his 2016 season.
On the heels of a promising 9-7 season featuring an improved defense, the Buccaneers struck gold in free agency with play-making wideout DeSean Jackson and disruptive defensive lineman Chris Baker. If the backfield can return to 2015 levels, Dirk Koetter’s team can realistically eye the playoffs.
Mixon punched a female OU student as a freshman in 2014, resulting in heavy scrutiny from NFL clubs entering the draft. He was suspended from the OU football team for a season and, in the criminal case, received probation after a plea agreement on a misdemeanor charge of acts results in gross conduct. Though he is one of the most talented running backs available, multiple clubs have removed him from their draft boards, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Mixon’s visit schedule also includes the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos and cheap jerseys and Oakland Raiders, among others. NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah has been told by multiple NFL personnel that he is expected to be selected in the second round of the draft.
Buccaneers RB Doug Martin is suspended for the first three games of next season, and the team ranked 24th in the league in rushing last year at 101 yards per game. The Bucs hold the No. 19 overall pick in the first round and the No. 50 overall choice in the second. The NFL draft will be held April 27-29 in Philadelphia.
The Rams went scoreless in Week 1, then failed to find the end zone in Week 2. That’s the sign of an inept offense, right? Wrong in Week 3. Case Keenum found Brian Quick on a 44-yard touchdown completion to open the scoring, then promptly tossed the interception to Alexander. Things did get better, though, when on third down late in the fourth, Keenum faced an all-out blitz and heaved a pass off his back foot to Tavon Austin, matched up with a safety in man coverage. Austin caught the pass and easily broke the feeble tackle attempt of the out-of-position Keith Tandy before coasting for a 43-yard score.
The Fat Guy Touchdown of the Week award goes to Ethan Westbrooks, who was the beneficiary of Robert Quinn’s strip sack on Winston, which looked to put the game on ice for L.A. early in the fourth. Westbrooks picked up the loose ball on third-and-6 deep in his team’s own territory and, with a convoy of blockers, rumbled 77 yards down the sidelines for the glorious defensive lineman score, which is never not enjoyable.
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Vitale announced a Bucs draft pick last year (don’t worry, it wasn’t the kicker) and has been a longtime season-ticket holder in Tampa. So why does he think people should get on this Bucs bandwagon?
“This is a team that is about to go uptown, baby. I’m excited about where this team is headed. I know a lot of people out there still laugh if you mention the Bucs and the playoffs. But I like that. It’s good to get behind the underdog. Jameis Winston is really starting to turn the corner to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Mike Evans is an exciting player. And I love O.J. Howard, this kid out of Alabama who should come in and be really good. They are really surrounding Jameis with a lot of good players, and this is going to be an exciting season.
I’ve documented every “Hard Knocks” season for NFL.com since 2012, when Joe Philbin was wowing America with charisma that would leave a young Elvis Presley green with envy. Barring a nuclear fallout scenario, I’ll be back at it again with episode recaps starting in August.
The Bucs are promising NFC upstarts with no shortage of intriguing personalities and storylines. One could even call them youngry … is that taken? Meanwhile, this feels like an important season for “Hard Knocks,” an all-time sports series that retreated into a formulaic cul-de-sac under the weight of the dreary Rams a year ago.