After a pair of losses, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have slid back to the edge of the playoff race.
The Buccaneers should have a good a chance to improve their position on Sunday when they host the reeling Philadelphia Eagles, who are in the middle of their worst losing streak since 1968.
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Despite dropping back-to-back games, Tampa Bay (6-6) is still just a game behind Seattle’s for the NFC’s final wild-card spot.
“This team is going to fight,” coach Greg Schiano said.
The running game has been a big part of the Bucs’ success this season, but they only ran for 71 yards in Sunday’s 31-23 loss at Denver. Rookie Doug Martin was held to 56 yards on 18 carries after having just 50 on 21 in a 24-23 loss to Atlanta on Nov. 25.
The Bucs are 5-0 when they run for 130 yards or more and 1-6 when they fail to reach that mark.
“That is every offense’s dream, to have the best of both worlds,” said tight end Dallas Clark, who caught an 11-yard TD pass against the Broncos. “You really put yourself against the wall when you can’t get that part of the game going.”
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman also looks to bounce back after throwing an interception that Denver’s Von Miller returned for a touchdown to put Tampa Bay in a 28-10 hole in the third quarter.
Freeman completed just 18 of 39 passes for his second-lowest completion percentage (46.2) of the season. Despite the pick in Denver, he ranks sixth in the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio (2.88) and hadn’t thrown an interception in five of his previous six games.
Freeman has been particularly good in Tampa. He’s averaging 9.12 yards per attempt with 10 TDs and two INTs, good for a 105.5 passer rating that’s the NFL’s third-best at home.
There’s an excellent chance Freeman will again play well at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. The Eagles have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 76.3 percent of their passes for nearly 10 yards an attempt in their previous six games, yielding 16 touchdowns without an interception for an astounding 142.4 rating.
Philadelphia (3-9) has given up 30 points or more in five of those contests after losing its eighth straight, 38-33 at Dallas on Sunday night.
With the Eagles also second-to-last in the NFC with 20 sacks, coach Andy Reid decided to make yet another change by firing defensive line coach Jim Washburn and bringing back Tommy Brasher for his third stint with the team.
“He’s all about the team,” Reid said of Brasher.
The Eagles, however, have at least received a bit of a spark from some of their new faces on offense.
Quarterback Nick Foles completed 22 of 34 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys, leading Reid to name him the starter even if Michael Vick can return from a concussion that’s kept him out the past three games.
Foles has thrown for 793 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions and has a passer rating of 73.3.
“No. 1, I just think he’s playing well enough to where I think he can win football games for us,” Reid said. “And No. 2, I think where we sit at this position in the season, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Fellow rookie Bryce Brown rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against Dallas while stepping in for starter LeSean McCoy, also out with a concussion. Brown ran for 178 yards and two scores a week earlier against Carolina.
His performance against the Cowboys was somewhat marred by his fumble with less than four minutes left – his third in two weeks – that the Cowboys’ Morris Claiborne picked up and returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
Still, the Eagles, who rank second in the league in turnovers (28), took a step in the right direction with only one on Sunday night while also only committing one penalty.
“Their preparation, they’re working their tail off to get better,” Reid said. “That’s an important thing at this point.”
Philadelphia and Tampa Bay will meet for the first time since Oct. 11, 2009, a 33-14 Eagles victory as Jeremy Maclin caught six passes for 142 yards and two TDs.