Coming off their bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will return to action — and the United States — when they visit the struggling Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.
The Buccaneers (5-5) sit atop the NFC South after defeating Seattle 21-16 in Munich on Nov. 13.
Quarterback Tom Brady said Tampa Bay faces “a big, big stretch ahead” as the prepares to face Cleveland.
“This time of year, some teams get worse and stop believing, lose hope,” Brady said Wednesday. “And other teams do the opposite.”
The Browns (3-7), who lost to Buffalo last week in a game moved to Detroit due to severe snow in upstate New York, are trying to avoid losing hope after dropping two straight and six of seven. They trail first-place Baltimore by four games in the AFC North.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is expected to make his final start for Cleveland before Deshaun Watson becomes eligible for the Dec. 4 game at Houston.
Watson returned to practice last week for the first time during his 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He faced sexual misconduct allegations stemming from massage therapy sessions but has since reach confidential settlements with a number of the women who filed civil lawsuits against him.
Brissett said he remained focused on this week’s game against Tampa Bay and former New England Patriots teammate Brady.
“I haven’t really thought about the future yet, and honestly don’t want to right now because of how much this week means to me,” Brissett said.
With rain in the forecast for Sunday’s game, Cleveland’s ability to run could be key. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have helped the Browns average 150.9 rushing yards, fifth best in the league.
Tampa Bay’s run defense — which has yielded 116.6 rushing yards per game — includes nose tackle Vita Vea, who did not practice Wednesday due to a foot injury.
“He’s a great player,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He’s so physically just big from a measurement standpoint, not just the way he moves his feet. It’s very, very rare to have a guy that size that moves laterally and then is so powerful.”
Brady, understandably, also concerns Stefanski since Tampa Bay’s offense features the fifth-best passing attack (269.8 yards per game).
“He doesn’t take sacks, he doesn’t throw interceptions, throws it at a high level,” Stefanski said of Brady. “He’s on time, accurate.”
Unlike Cleveland, Tampa Bay has struggled to run the ball. The Bucs are last in the league with an average of 70.7 rushing yards, though they ran for 161 in beating the Seahawks.
“We got the win (against Seattle), but we’ve got to do it every week,” Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles said. “We have seven games left. We just got to produce and execute every week.”
Tampa bay running back Leonard Fournette (hip) and guard Luke Goedeke (foot) had limited participation in Wednesday’s practice for Tampa Bay. Receiver Russell Gage Jr. (hamstring) did not practice.
An extensive Browns injury report listed nine players who did not practice, including safety D’Anthony Bell (concussion), guard Joel Bitonio (illness/rest), defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney (rest) and Myles Garrett (rest) and tight end David Njoku (ankle/knee). Receiver Amari Cooper was also held out due to rest.
–Field Level Media