(TSX / STATS) — TAMPA, Fla. — The New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will bring different forms of desperation into their Sunday matchup at Raymond James Stadium.
The 0-3 Giants are staring at some staggering history. Since the 1970 merger, only five teams started 0-3 and made the playoffs. However, no team has pulled off that feat since the NFL realigned into its current divisions in 2002.
The Bucs (1-1), after a disjointed start to the season because of Hurricane Irma, are reeling with a series of defensive injuries. They are expected to be without their two best linebackers, Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and Lavonte David (ankle), who did not practice Wednesday. Additionally, defensive linemen Gerald McCoy (ankle) and Robert Ayers (knee) have been limited.
“Our mindset is we have to get this win right here,” New York quarterback Eli Manning said. “Get our first win and go from there. So we have a long football season left, and anything is possible, but still the focus is on the next game no matter if we’re 3-0 or 1-2 or whatever. Next game is the most important one. That’s where we are right now.”
And that is where Tampa Bay is, too.
The Bucs, coming off a 34-17 road loss against the Minnesota Vikings, already seem at an important juncture. After facing the Giants, they host the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in a short-week Thursday night matchup before heading on the road for two consecutive contests.
“I think a loss is a loss, and they all hurt the same,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said. “The knife is in there deep and you’re bleeding. Nothing gets it out until you get that taste out of your mouth.
“If you play your best and you come up short, that’s one thing. But to play like we played last week … I think I speak for pretty much every man in the (locker) room that says we’ve got a bad taste in our mouth right now.”
As for the Giants, their 27-24 road loss against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday was similarly tough to shake.
New York, which scored only one touchdown in its first 11 quarters of regular-season play, put up a 24-point fourth-quarter flurry and tied the Eagles. Just when the game seemed headed for overtime, the Giants shanked a punt, and the Eagles positioned themselves for an improbable 61-yard, walk-off field goal by rookie Jake Elliott.
Manning, who passed for 366 yards and three touchdowns against Philadelphia, said the Giants are more determined than crestfallen.
“I think (we have) a strong team,” Manning said. “I think guys have a lot of respect for each other. They work hard, they get along with each other, great communication starting from the coaches going all the way down to the players, and (we are) able to handle things and whatever is thrown at us.
“We’ve had talks and we’ve had some opportunities to make sure everybody is on the same page. I think the team is still strong and dedicated to going out there and doing what’s right and fixing the problems.”
One problem that must be addressed is New York’s rushing defense. The Eagles ran for 193 yards. Last season, the Giants finished tied for third in the NFL against the run, allowing only 88.6 yards per game.
“We definitely know that (the rushing defense has not played well),” Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “We gave up almost 200 yards in rushing. That’s something we are not proud of. We are going to fix it.
“It ain’t no panic. We are not panicking. The fans can’t play for us. The media can’t play for us. The only person that can play for us is us. So we are not panicking. At the end of the day, it’s all about the team.”
The Bucs need a much better team performance. Their defense was sliced and diced by Vikings backup quarterback Case Keenum, who passed for a career-high 369 yards and three touchdowns while stepping in for injured Sam Bradford.
With the potential absence of Alexander and David, rookie linebacker Kendell Beckwith will call Tampa Bay’s defensive signals. It is notable that the Bucs are 0-5 over three seasons while playing without Alexander, who was injured in the season-opening victory against the Chicago Bears.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston threw three interceptions against the Vikings, and the Buccaneers never established offensive consistency.
“I think we just need to get in, and stay in, a rhythm,” Koetter said. “Offense is a rhythm. Sometimes you’ve got to get a break or you’ve got to get an exceptional play — and we’ve got some exceptional players who are capable of doing that — but a consistent offense is in a rhythm, everybody is doing their job.”
Even if the Bucs find that rhythm, they acknowledge that the Giants will pose a formidable challenge.
“Very misleading,” Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans said of New York’s 0-3 record. “They have a great team, and it’s early in the season. We can’t take them lightly at all. They are probably in a must-win situation, but we are as well.”