Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons (8-5). The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) at 8:30 p.m. on “Monday Night Football” at Raymond James Stadium.
1. THE FAMILY FEUD. The Bucs have regressed in Jameis Winston’s third season as the starter and now there’s talk of coach Dirk Koetter possibly getting fired.
Things didn’t come together for the Bucs and there’s been some bizarre behavior by their once-prized Heisman Trophy winner. Instead of looking like the franchise quarterback, he’s looking more like another Bucs’ flash-in-the-pan quarterback, Josh Freeman.
Freeman, a first-round pick out of Kansas State was the savior from 2009-13. He posted a 24-35 record (.406) as a starter. Winston is on the same trajectory.
He’s posted a 17-25 record as a starter (.404).
The Bucs must have doubts whether Winston is the guy to lead their return from the division basement after the sexual harassment allegation with an Uber driver surfaced. There was the weird licking a W pre-game speech and Winston instigating a fight on the sidelines between wide receiver Mike Evans and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore this season.
He’s talented, but a little weird.
The Falcons, who faced Ryan Fitzpatrick in their 34-20 win on Nov. 26, are pushing all of the bizarre stuff to side. They still respect Winston’s play-making ability.
“Jameis adds that element of the unknown because you never know,” Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said. “He makes some big plays sometimes on plays that are not scheduled. Plays that you can’t really draw up. Plays that you can’t really design.
“We have to always be ready for Jameis. He’s a guy who in crucial moments likes the ball in his hands. So, you have to be ready for that also.”
Winston, who’s gone 2-8 this season, has not been special. He had two interceptions and a fumble in the 24-21 loss to Detroit on Sunday.
He’s completed 206 of 329 passes (62.9 percent) for 2,475 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has a sub-par passer rating of 89.7 and is the 14th ranked quarterback in the league by analytics website footballoutsiders.com.
2. THE RETURN OF RODGERS IS HUGE: The return of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in huge for the Falcons. The Packers (7-6) are set to play Carolina (9-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Charlotte. If Rodgers can beat the Panthers and win-out, the Packers would be 10-6 with head-to-head tie-breaker over the Panthers.
The Falcons have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay if they both finish 10-6. The Falcons need to win-out in order to stay out of the potential 10-6 pack even though they have head-to-head tiebreakers over Seattle, Green Bay, Detroit and Dallas.
3. FANS PRO BOWL VOTING ENDS THURSDAY: Go here to vote on the Pro Bowl. (Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn deserves your vote!)
4. JONES CLIMBING THE CHARTS: Falcons two-time All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones is four catches away from passing Terance Mathis for second place on the franchise’s all-time time receptions list.
Jones, who was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 2011, has 570 catches. Mathis made 573 receptions over eight seasons (1994-2001) with the Falcons.
Roddy White is the franchise’s all-time leading receiver with 808 catches, 10,863 yards and 63 touchdowns.
Jones has 8,771 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Jones had his most spectacular game of the season against Tampa Bay when he had 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Mathis, who played at Redan High and New Mexico, played for the Falcons from 1994 to 2001. Overall, Mathis, who was drafted in the sixth-round of the 1990 draft by the Jets, played 13 seasons in the NFL and finished with 689 catches.
He also played with the Jets (1990-93) and the Steelers (2002).
5. COLEMAN, LEVITRE UPDATE: The Falcons returned to practice Tuesday, but running back Tevin Coleman (concussion protocol) and left guard Andy Levitre (triceps injury) did not participate.
6. SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 49th meeting. The series is tied, 24-24. The Falcons have won the last two meetings over the Bucs.
7. BARBER PLAYING WELL: Tampa Bay running back Peyton Barber, who played at Milton High and Auburn, is playing well for the Bucs. He rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries against Green Bay on Dec. 3. He took over for Doug Martin after he fumbled against Detroit. He rushed for 58 yards on 12 carries and may get the start against the Falcons.
Martin has been a disappointment this season.
“Really over the last few weeks you felt the intensity of the running from Barber,” Quinn said. “The physicality that he’s played with, you saw that against Green Bay, you saw it against Detroit. Obviously, he’s been playing well.”
8. HESTER RETIRES: Former Atlanta Falcons returner Devin Hester announced his retirement Tuesday on Twitter.
9. DEPTH CHART: The Falcons released their official depth chart for the Tampa Bay game on Tuesday.
With Coleman in the concussion protocol, Terron Ward would slide up to his spot if he can’t make it back in time.
Also, left guard Andy Levitre did not practice on Tuesday. Ben Garland started for him against the Saints.
Here’s the official depth chart for the Tampa Bay game:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 17 Marvin Hall, 15 Nick Williams
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward
FB 40 Derrick Coleman
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 79 Ahtyba Rubin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett
DE 91 Courtney Upshaw, 90 Derrick Shelby
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 53 LaRoy Reynolds
LB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Sean Weatherspoon
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 35 Leon McFadden
NB 34 Brian Poole, 37 Ricardo Allen
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee
S 22 Keanu Neal, 20 Sharrod Neasman
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher