Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, left, runs after a reception past Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) throws an interception as he is hit by Tennessee Titans linebacker Harold Landry (58) during the second half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle (84) celebrates a touchdown catch against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
TAMPA, Fla. (AP)
The Indianapolis Colts know what it takes to thrive under the pressure of a race for a playoff berth. The young Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trying to learn.
A year after staging a torrid stretch run to make the postseason in their first season under coach Frank Reich, the Colts (6-6) find themselves in a familiar position of needing to win their last four games to give themselves a good shot at earning another berth.
The Bucs (5-7) have won three of four following a 2-6 start and vow to keep fighting until they are mathematically eliminated from contention.
“They’re a team that’s in the same situation as us,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s a one-game season.”
The Colts know all about that after overcoming a 1-5 start last season by winning nine of their last 10 - including four straight down the stretch in December - to grab an AFC wild-card berth.
Jacoby Brissett is quarterback this year instead of the retired Andrew Luck, but the challenge remains the same as Indianapolis tries to right itself after dropping four of five to fall from first to third place in the AFC South.
“Obviously, we would have liked not to be in that position again, but we’re here and we know we have to win games,” Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo said.
“Frank (Reich) did a good job speaking about that and what you did to this point doesn’t matter. You can’t rely on any of that information in the future. ... I know everybody on this team is committed to playing one week at a time,” center Ryan Kelly added. “Obviously, we have a tough four games ahead, but if you take it one game at a time, you’ll be fine.”
Arians, the former Cardinals coach who also led Indianapolis to the playoffs as interim coach for 12 games in 2012, said the Bucs will benefit from a strong finish - even if it doesn’t produce Tampa Bay’s first playoff in 12 years.
“We talked about it. ... If you want to feel like you’re in the playoffs, you’re in it. Right now,” Arians said. “They are one-game seasons. You lose, you’re done. Then you play for fun.”
Reich hasn't spent much time over the years around Bruce Arians. But he's heard plenty of stories about the longtime assistant and has plenty of respect for the man who earned the first of two coach of the year awards filling in for Indy coach Chuck Pagano in 2012.
And Reich figures not much has changed as Arians completes his first season as Tampa Bay's head coach.
"I guess there are guys like (Bill) Belichick where you're like, 'Don't try to be like him,'" Reich said. "You try and be like Bruce Arians. I could never pull that off, I don't know if anybody could from what I understand. You just know the players that play for him - they will die for him."
SHARING THE WEALTH
The Bucs defense is tied for fifth in the NFL with 21 takeaways. That’s four more than they had all of last season, when Tampa Bay ranked 22nd.
Nine players have forced fumbles, eight have recovered an opposing team’s fumble, and eight have interceptions.
The unit has also scored four touchdowns, compared to one in 2018.
Four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton has missed four of the last five Colts games, and there's no guarantee he'll play this week, either.
Hilton returned from a calf injury against Houston two weeks ago but sat out last week after aggravating the injury in practice. He did not work out Wednesday and with only four regular-season games left, some wonder if he'll make it back this season.
"I'm doing everything I can to get back out there," Hilton said. "Ïf I can, I can and if I can't then I'm going to have to shut it down. But I'm doing everything I can."
Indy finished last week's game with only three healthy receivers after Chester Rogers suffered a season-ending knee injury on the Colts' opening series. Chad Williams was promoted from the practice squad earlier this week and the Colts could get more help if rookie Parris Campbell (hand) can play.
IN HIS SIGHTS
Arians has not committed to making Jameis Winston the long-term answer at quarterback for the Bucs.
Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard thinks Winston has everything it takes to thrive in that role, though.
The Colts' defensive leader provided his own scouting report, full of the intangibles he witnessed as the two worked out together during the offseason.
"He can throw the ball," Leonard said. "I know what kind of guy he is, I know what kind of leader he is and he's throwing the ball to a lot of his receivers. He knows how to make a play down the field. He's definitely one of those great quarterbacks."
Baltimore Ravens defensive end Matthew Judon is a candidate to receive the team's franchise tag and could also be traded, according to league sources. The Ravens would like to bring Judon back in 2020, but they are also likely to listen to trade offers if another team shows interest. The Niners dealt a second-round pick to the Chiefs last year for defensive end Dee Ford, who then signed a five-year deal worth up to $87.5 million last March. The Chiefs also traded first- and third-round picks to the Seahawks last April for defensive end Frank Clark, who then signed a five-year, $105.5 million deal. Judon has emerged as a high-end pass rusher with at least seven sacks in each of the last three years. The 27-year-old had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019 and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle posted three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on four targets for the AFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Pittsburgh Steelers DE T.J. Watt posted an 82-yard fumble return for touchdown in the fourth quarter for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews ended up with a game-high nine receptions for an AFC-best 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. registered two grabs for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter, for the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams ended up with a team-high six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper finished with three grabs for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins completed 13-of-22 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26
New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas hauled in five receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown with a team-high eight targets at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell had a solo tackle, a sack and a quarterback hit in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26, winning the Defensive Most Valuable Player award.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson completed 16-of-23 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, winning Offensive Most Valuable Player. He also ran twice for six yards in the 38-33 win.
Houston Texans impending free-agent TE Darren Fells is a player the Texans will try to re-sign this offseason, but he probably will receive interest from multiple teams in free agency.
Houston Texans impending free-agent QB AJ McCarron is a candidate to be re-signed this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop.
New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), who is six weeks removed from groin/abdominal surgery, said he is jogging "a little bit" and is on track to take part in "spring football." Mosley has also started a vegan diet after playing in just two games last season because of his injury in his first year in New York. The 27-year-old should be ready for a full training camp heading into the 2020 season, and he should give Gang Green a steadying presence in the middle of the field next season. Mosley recorded 100-plus tackles in four of his five seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Jets in free agency last offseason.
Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who did not play at all in 2019, plans to play in 2020 after intentionally taking the season off to rest his body and mind. Berry was cut by the Chiefs in 2018 and has only played in three games since 2016 due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The former first-round pick in 2010 has 14 career interceptions and five touchdowns and could provide a team with a veteran presence in the secondary in 2020. However, it remains to be seen if any team will take a chance on the veteran moving forward. Berry is unlikely to be an asset in IDP leagues if he gets picked up by a team.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will become a free agent in March, said he is still waiting to decide if he will play a 20th season in the NFL. "Then, I'll kind of lay low for a little bit, get away and then assess. I kind of have a process in mind. And I'll give it a month or so," Brees said. If the 41-year-old does decide to return, it'll be for the Saints. General manager Mickey Loomis also said that the team would welcome him back if he decides to keep playing. Brees' arm strength is starting to deteriorate, but he still put up great numbers when he came back from a fractured thumb last season, and he should remain in play as a QB1 if he returns for the 2020 season.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hernia) underwent sports hernia surgery recently to fix a lingering groin injury that he suffered during the season, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. The 25-year-old aggravated the injury in the Divisional loss to the Chiefs. Fuller missed five games with a chronic hamstring injury in 2019, and the Texans were 8-3 with him and 2-3 without him. He has 94 catches for 1,452 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 22 regular season games with quarterback Deshaun Watson, yet Fuller continues to struggle to stay on the field with regularity. Fuller is an excellent deep threat but is a frustrating player to own as a boom-or-bust WR3. He should be fully recovered in time for training camp this summer.
Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent DE Robert Quinn likely will not return to the Dallas Cowboys next season, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Todd Archer.
New York Jets LB C.J. Mosley (groin) said he has been able to start jogging and is expected to participate in at least some of the offseason workouts.