Bucs' Koetter: No-brainer that tilt with Falcons is big


Consider Sunday's tilt between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons a loser-leaves-the-playoff-hunt match.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith told his players this week that Sunday was a must-win game. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter underscored that stance Wednesday.

"Lovie made it crystal clear where we're at going into this game today in our (team) meeting,'' Koetter said, via The Tampa Tribune. "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that this is a big game.''

The Bucs sit at 5-6, amoung a lump of teams vying for a wild card spot.

After four straight losses, the Falcons are 6-5 and on the outside looking in at the playoffs for the first time since starting 5-0. Atlanta players agree it's a must-win game.

"It's almost like win or go home right now," said running back Devonta Freeman. "You know you have to put it all on the line, because they're going to play us physical and hard. So, we have to come in with the same mentality, that this game could determine our season.''

The loser will drop deeper into the puddle of mediocrity, while the winner will remain on the outskirts of a playoff battle for the final month of the season.

The Bucs won the first matchup of the season in Week 8, 23-20, on a Connor Barth 31-yard field goal in overtime. Tampa could sweep Atlanta for the first time since 2007 with a win.

The Week 8 tilt marked a season-low in passing yards for rookie quarterback Jameis Winston -- 177 yards. The No. 1 overall pick has been much more prolific in recent weeks, displaying good pocket presence and strong throwing anticipation. Getting Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson going against the Falcons' secondary will be key for Winston on Sunday.

"This is the time when football matters,'' Winston said. "And, for us, these next five games are very important. These next five games are really big.''