TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a tough challenge ahead as they seek their third straight win on Sunday at home against the Seattle Seahawks, and they might have to do so without two of their top three cornerbacks.
Containing quarterback Russell Wilson is plenty difficult at full strength, but the Buccaneers will be without nickel cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah, who begins a four-game suspension, and Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes has a quad injury that sidelined him for much of Sunday's win at Kansas City and is listed as questionable.
Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter said his team has a high respect for Wilson, who has thrown just two interceptions all season in 335 pass attempts.
“Make no mistake: Russell Wilson makes Seattle go,” Koetter said Wednesday. “This guy, he's an unbelievable playmaker. Almost impossible to sack him. They've only turned it over six times all year.
“His accuracy with balls, running right, throwing left, running left, throwing right, incredible. If Jameis (Winston) was making some of those throws, we'd be screaming at him.”
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said he has been watching Winston since college, and he has been impressed by the confidence he already has in his second NFL season.
“I watched him all the way through college and have always been impressed with his tenacity and his competitiveness and his confidence,” Carroll said. “He demonstrates confidence in the way he throws the football and the choices that he makes. He totally believes in himself that he can make the plays, and he does.
“He'll continue to grow in command and awareness and understanding of what's going on. He's going to be a great player.”
Winston has made major progress in limiting his turnovers — after throwing eight interceptions in the Buccaneers' first four games and a 1-3 start, he has thrown just two in the last six games, and the Buccaneers have gone 4-2 to claw back to a .500 record.
Tampa Bay is just one game behind Atlanta for the NFC South lead with six games to play, but their remaining schedule includes not only Seattle but a road game at Dallas three weeks later. The rest, however, are against teams with losing records, with two against New Orleans, a game at San Diego and the season finale at home against struggling Carolina.
Seattle, meanwhile, is battling for home-field advantage in the playoffs, and Koetter said as he looks at the Seahawks, he sees a model of what he'd like the Buccaneers to be.
“When you watch Seattle on film, that's who we want to be,” Koetter said. “That's who we want to be like. They've been doing it for a long time and even though they've been to the top, they still play extremely hard.
“We pride ourselves on being a team that plays hard. It's a great example. All our guys have to do is turn on the tape and watch. We're playing a good team and we know it.”
The Buccaneers won at Arrowhead Stadium — where the Chiefs had won 10 straight — by limiting their mistakes and getting well-timed turnovers.
Kansas City was driving for a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter at the Bucs' 6-yard line when safety Chris Conte intercepted an Alex Smith pass — he had only three all season going in — and returning it to near midfield to set up a Buccaneers touchdown.
They'll have to do much the same to beat Seattle, and playing at home has actually been a disadvantage for the Buccaneers, who are 4-1 on the road and 1-4 at Raymond James Stadium.
Seattle has a vulnerability against the run and will be without top safety Earl Thomas. The Seahawks are struggling with injuries at running back, getting starter Thomas Rawls back but with limited depth behind him.
“Every year brings up new obstacles,” Wilson said. “And that's the journey that we're on every year. … I think when you respect the process and respect the journey, great things happen.
“This year, there's been some significant injuries to a lot of the guys, and we've been able to overcome those and still find ways to win.”