By Max Luckan
With a key divisional matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, who are in first place in the NFC South, in the near future, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their final preparations in practice on Friday. The Bucs currently sit at 6-4 and are tied with the Seattle Seahawks for the final playoff spot, although currently, the Seahawks would be granted the final spot. Meanwhile, the Falcons are 9-1 and playing at an extremely high level, which makes this battle even more crucial. To that end, the Bucs are hoping to head into Sunday as healthy as possible because of the importance of the game, but could be without some key players.
Cornerback Eric Wright has become a regular on the injury report because of a nagging Achilles injury that continues to be an issue. It is unclear when exactly Wright sustained the injury, but it has caused him to miss large chunks of the past two games. His status for Sunday’s game against the Falcons is questionable, but seeing as how he only practiced once the entire week, optimism shouldn’t be too high.
But coach Greg Schiano has not ruled him out.
“I think he’s done enough that we’ll see,” Schiano said Friday.
Ideally, the Bucs would like to have Wright against the Falcons, who have one of the best passing attacks in the NFL, but would likely opt to start Leonard Johnson, who has played well this year, in place of Wright. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan leads the league in passing, so the threat is there. “It’s going to be very challenging,” Schiano said. “And now you have some moving parts on our side.”
Safety Cody Grimm, who did not practice all week, has already been ruled out because of a hamstring injury, which means rookie safety Keith Tandy could be active against Atlanta behind Mark Barron.
DE Michael Bennett (shoulder), S Ahmad Black (illness), CB Leonard Johnson (heel), DE Aaron Morgan (shoulder), WR Tiquan Underwood (head), and LB Dekoda Watson (hamstring), are all listed as probable on Friday’s final injury report.
Falcons safety Charles Mitchell has been ruled out with a calf injury, which leaves Atlanta with little depth behind starter Thomas DeCoud. Wide receiver Julio Jones has an ankle injury that he aggravated last Sunday, and is listed as questionable. Jones practiced on Thursday and Friday, so there’s a good chance he plays. If he doesn’t, veteran Harry Douglas would likely get the start.
Also questionable for Atlanta is DT Peria Jerry with a quadriceps injury. Jerry did not participate in practice all week, so his status remains uncertain. Jerry’s absence would benefit the Bucs’ running game, which they need to establish against the Falcons.
Cornerback Asante Samuel has a shoulder injury and is listed as questionable as well, although he did return to practice on Friday. If Samuel is unable to go, the Bucs would be catching a huge break, as he is one of the more aggressive corners in the league.
Another key injury is the injury to Falcons DE John Abraham, who has a minor back injury that could slow him down a bit. Obviously, a banged up Abraham would benefit the Bucs, as he’s one of the better pass rushers in the league.
Full Injury Report
DE Michael Bennett (shoulder)
S Ahmad Black (illness)
CB Leonard Johnson (heel)
DE Aaron Morgan (shoulder)
WR Tiquan Underwood (head)
LB Dekoda Watson (hamstring)
CB Eric Wright (Achilles)
S Cody Grimm (hamstring)
DE John Abraham (back)
DT Jonathan Babineaux (neck)
K Matt Bryant (back)
CB Christopher Owens (thigh)
QB Matt Ryan (left finger)
RB Michael Turner (groin)
WR Kevin Cone (groin)
DT Peria Jerry (quadriceps)
WR Julio Jones (ankle)
CB Asante Samuel (shoulder)
DT Vance Walker (ribs)
LB Sean Weatherspoon (illness, ankle)
S Charles Mitchell (calf)
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.