TAMPA — Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Dekoda Watson plans on being all business Sunday when he faces Buffalo rookie QB EJ Manuel at Raymond James Stadium.
But before and after the game, the two Florida State alums will exchange handshakes and smiles.
Manuel was the only quarterback selected in the first round of the 2013 draft and he’s experienced a typically erratic transition to the pro game, throwing nine TD passes and only four interceptions for the struggling Bills (4-8), who are 1-4 on the road.
“I knew he was going to go to the NFL one day, but I didn’t think that I would have to play against him,’’ said Watson, who may see added playing time at strongside LB following a knee injury to Jonathan Casillas. “He’s a very intelligent player. Not only that, but he’s athletic and can make things happen. If we’re not at the top of our game, he can definitely make it a long day for us.’’
There are other former FSU players on Buffalo’s roster and Watson was asked how his familiarity with Manuel will impact Sunday’s matchup.
“I feel like I know a lot about EJ, but at the same time, he’s a quarterback and that’s what he does — he studies a defense and he might know about me. He might know what I ate yesterday.’’
Watson is trying to keep his emotions in check after the Seminoles vaulted into the No. 1 spot in the college football rankings this week. They are 28-point favorites to beat Duke in Saturday’s ACC title game.
“It’s a beautiful thing,’’ Watson said of Florida State’s unbeaten season. “I’m so proud of the system and everything that’s going on over there, even with everything that they’re trying to throw against Florida State and get us distracted. We’ve got Duke coming up and we’ll see how that plays out. I’m not going to talk junk about any team.’’
Watson and teammate Mark Barron, a former All-America safety at Alabama, had been anticipating an Alabama-FSU matchup in the national championship game. But those plans changed suddenly on Saturday when the Crimson Tide lost to Auburn on the final play, dropping Alabama to the fourth spot.
“Mark and I were already talking about the championship game,’’ Watson said Monday. “Now, it’s like we’ve got nothing else to talk about.’’
Wrap it up
The Panthers gained a lot of yards after contact in beating the Bucs 27-6 on Sunday, ensuring Tampa Bay’s fourth losing season in the past five years.
“We’ll get it fixed this week,’’ said rookie DT Akeem Spence. “We’ve just got to get back to tackling, gang-tackling.’’
Coach Greg Schiano said Tampa Bay’s tackling issues at Carolina were atypical for a defense that has improved from No. 29 to No. 16.
“I was surprised, I didn’t see that coming,’’ Schiano said. “I thought we’ve tackled very well for the majority of this season. I think it was the highest missed-tackle total that we’ve had.
“We’ve got to really get back to basics in that because that’s what tackling is — it’s fundamentals and it’s want-to and our guys play incredibly hard. It’s just one of those days.’’
The Bucs didn’t stop the clock late in the opening half after Carolina drove to a first down at the Tampa Bay 8-yard line.
By the time QB Cam Newton dove over the top of the pile on fourth down from a yard out to put the Panthers ahead 17-6, only 25 seconds remained. Bucs rookie QB Mike Glennon ended the half by taking a knee from his 20.
Schiano said Tampa Bay considered stopping the clock to preserve more time for an ensuing Buccaneer drive.
“We were going to use the timeout to make them kick a field goal, but you don’t want to do that and have 1:30-1:20 when they have all their timeouts left, because they can turn around and use them on you,’’ he said. “I thought our guys stopped it, but Cam made a heck of a play extending the ball. Our guys were aware and knocked it out and that’s why they call it a game of inches.
“It’s a big score there, 17-6. That’s what I’m talking about, key plays in that first half where it’s a fourth-quarter football game. That’s the only way we’re going to beat that football team right now. The team that we had on Sunday, we’re going to beat them in a fourth-quarter game. We didn’t get it there.’’
Tampa Bay leads the NFL with 17 interceptions. ...Bucs OLB Lavonte David is the only player in the league with at least five sacks and three interceptions. ...Led by DE Mario Williams (12), the Bills lead the NFL with 43 sacks.