Tampa Bay (5-10), which hosts the Falcons (6-9) in the regular-season finale at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, need a victory not to finish in last place in the NFC South for the third consecutive season.
The Buccaneers have lost their past three games and seven of their past nine. After six games, the Bucs fired former defensive coordinator Mike Smith and turned things over to Mark Duffner, who was the linebackers coach.
This will be the 51st regular-season meeting between the Falcons and the Bucs. The Falcons lead the series 26-24. The Falcons won the last meeting 34-29 on Oct. 14.
The Falcons won the last meeting in Tampa, a 24-21 victory on Dec. 18, 2017.
The Bucs don’t take care of the football.
They had two turnovers converted into touchdowns in the 27-20 loss to Dallas on Sunday. The Bucs are a minus-18 in turnover differential, which ranks 31 of 32 in the NFL.
Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter noted that quarterback Jameis Winston chose his check-down receiver 13 times against Dallas. He did force a couple of throws into coverage, but didn’t have any interceptions.
“I think Jameis has improved across the board,” Koetter said to the Tampa-area media Monday.
The Falcons are concerned about Winston’s ability to make big plays. His main targets are wide receivers Mike Evans and Adam Humphries.
Evans caught six of 10 targets for 90 yards, and Humphries caught 10 of 12 targets for 79 yards against Dallas. The Bucs had big gains of 38, 25, 24 and 20 yards in the passing game.
“I would say the thing that jumps out more than anything from their offensive side is their ability to create explosive passes,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “They are No. 1 in the league in that department where they can create all sorts of big plays. That’s the thing totally jumps out to me in what they do and how they play. I think that’s why I think the matchup with them is difficult.”
In the previous meeting this season, Humphries, a former undrafted player from Clemson, broke loose for a 51-yard gain. The Bucs also had two 21-yard gains in the passing attack as Winston tossed four touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Winston and Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles both have thrown 57 interceptions over the past four seasons to lead the league. Winston has thrown 13 interceptions this season.
“We are going to have to do a good job of trying to force and create some takeaways,” Quinn said.
The Falcons are a plus-1 in turnover differential, which ranks tied for 14th in the league.
“In the last two games, we’ve improved in that area,” Quinn said. “It will take a performance like that again. When they are able to sustain drives like that down the field, they get big plays.”
The Bucs had backup quarterback Ryan Griffin as the No. 2 quarterback against Dallas and plan to get him some action against the Falcons.
Griffin, 29, has been with the Bucs over the past three seasons.
“I think Ryan Griffin is a really good quarterback,” Koetter said. “He tears it up in practice everyday, but he’s never had the chance to prove it in a real game.”
Bucs first-round draft pick defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was slowed by a calf injury, played 42 percent of the snaps in the previous meeting. He is coming on strong late in the season. He had six pressures, a sack and a quarterback hit against the Cowboys.
“He’s improved every week,” Koetter said.
Also, cornerback Brent Grimes, could be playing his last NFL game. The former Falcons player, who made it in the NFL after being undrafted out of Shippensburg, is showing signs of slippage. He got beat on a fade and missed a big tackle against the Cowboys.
“I’ve seen him play better than that,” Koetter said.
Quarterbacks have a passer rating of more than 117 when throwing against Grimes this season, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2017 and 2016, quarterbacks’ passing ratings were in the 70s when throwing in his direction.