The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come off their bye week and visit the Washington Football Team in a rematch of last year’s NFC wild-card game.
The Buccaneers (6-2) won 31-23 that day en route to the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t easy. An unknown quarterback named Taylor Heinicke got the start for Washington (2-6) and passed for 306 yards and a touchdown while running for another.
That performance led to a two-year contract. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s injury in Week 1 this season led to Heinicke becoming the starter and getting another crack at the Buccaneers on Sunday.
“We’ve been watching a good bit, and it brings back good memories and stuff,” Heinicke said of the wild-card game. “But again, it’s a new challenge this week, so hopefully, we can have a better outcome this year.”
Heinicke and Washington, which is also coming off a bye week, are struggling. Washington is 25th in the NFL in scoring offense (19.5 points per game), and Heinicke has passed for 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 63.9 percent of his passes.
Yet Tampa Bay remembers what happened the last time, and coach Bruce Arians talked about Heinicke’s elusiveness on Wednesday. He ran for 46 yards against Tampa Bay and has rushed for 232 yards, one touchdown, and 13 first downs this season.
But the Buccaneers are more familiar with Heinicke this time around.
“Last year, we weren’t planning on him coming here doing what he could do,” Bucs cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “I feel like that’s a different thing, being able to prepare for him.”
Health may be more of a concern for the Bucs than Heinicke. Tom Brady is expected to be without receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (ribs) for Sunday’s game.
In addition, wide receiver Chris Godwin (foot) did not practice Wednesday but is expected to play. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman was signed to the practice squad and could play Sunday.
“When they’re ready, they’re ready. Right now, it’s just a matter of ‘let’s win this week,’” coach Bruce Arians said of his injured players. “Put the best team we can out there this week, and as they come back, if they come back, when they come back, we’ll continue to add pieces.”
One of those pieces this week is cornerback Richard Sherman, who should play as Tampa Bay opens a stretch of four games against Washington, the Giants, the Colts, and the Falcons.
Washington is looking to end a four-game losing streak.
The defense has improved of late but is still ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in total defense (29th, 389.4 yards per game), scoring defense (29th, 28.4 PPG), and third-down defense (32nd, 56.5 percent conversions allowed).
“There are some things that can help us in the third-down situations,” coach Ron Rivera said. “We’ve got to be a little bit better on first and second downs. We’ve had way too many third and shorts. … That’s going to allow for a lot of conversions, unfortunately.”
Washington will be using its third kicker of the season Sunday after signing Joey Slye and releasing Chris Blewitt, who replaced veteran Dustin Hopkins last month. Blewitt had three of his five field-goal attempts blocked in the past two games.
Wide receiver Curtis Samuel (groin) and defensive end Montez Sweat (jaw) did not practice Wednesday.