NFC South Notes: Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints



After a strong performance two weeks ago against the Cardinals and their tight end-friendly defense, the Buccaneers thought that would be the jolt TE O.J. Howard needed to snap out of what’s been an inexplicably poor season. Instead, Howard bobbled his first target on Sunday against the Saints. It was intercepted and he wasn’t thrown to again the rest of the game. 

“It’s hard to say [what’s wrong],” Buccaneers HC Bruce Arians said via ESPN’s Jenna Laine. “He’s a talented, talented guy, but it’s not showing up on Sundays. He’s had the misfortune of juggling a couple balls this season, but there’s six games for him to get out of that funk.”

Howard’s role has changed more to emphasize blocking this year than in past seasons, as he’s only been targeted 26 times in the eight games he’s played. He said he’s trying to zero in on the fundamentals of his position to help him maintain focus during games in his new role. 

“That’s the biggest thing. It’s hard, man. You try to just, like, remember the basics,” Howard said. “Those things will always get you back going. When you start doing the little things over again and respecting it — because when you get away from it, you realize how much you miss it if you don’t use it.”

  • Laine says there wasn’t a consensus opinion by decision-makers in Tampa Bay about keeping Howard. Some thought he could be moved to address deficiencies in other areas. The Buccaneers changed their position on trading Howard and listened to offers before the deadline.
  • Buccaneers DE Jason Pierre-Paul has earned $2.4 million in incentives by playing at least 70 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in each of his four games this season and can earn another $3.6 million in incentives over the remainder of the season. (Greg Auman)
  • Pierre-Paul returned to practice Thursday with a brace on his knee. (Auman)



With his comments to reporters about not accepting mediocrity, Panthers owner David Tepper made it clear he’s looking to shake things up for an organization that has never posted back-to-back winning seasons. It’s unclear whether that effort will include Panthers HC Ron Rivera, who hasn’t been able to reverse that trend yet since joining the team in 2011, but he made it clear that he doesn’t accept mediocrity either. 

“That’s to be expected,” Rivera said via Alaina Getzenberg of the Charlotte Observer. “That’s what it’s about. This game is about winning, this game isn’t about anything else other than winning. This is my 33rd year, I get it. When I hear (Tepper) talk about it and say the things that he should say so that our fans understand that, hey, I don’t accept it either. And that’s something that everybody has to understand. We don’t accept it.”

  • ESPN’s Bill Barnwell says Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey likely signs an extension somewhere in the neighborhood of five years and $85 million this offseason, which would give him the highest running back salary by yearly average. 
  • Panthers second-round rookie OT Greg Little missed practice with knee soreness but should start Sunday against the Saints at left tackle. (Joseph Person)


  • ESPN’s Bill Barnwell believes the Saints will extend RB Alvin Kamara this offseason, though his injuries this year could knock his value down a peg or two. 

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