Before fully turning his attention to the first-place Atlanta Falcons, head coach Greg Schiano took time to relish the joyous manner in which the Bucs celebrated their improbable comeback victory against Carolina.
The Bucs rallied from an 11-point deficit with six minutes remaining to force overtime, then emerged with a 27-21 triumph in Charlotte when Josh Freeman and TE Dallas Clark combined for the game-winning 15-yard touchdown pass on the first possession of the extra session.
"I was really happy for our players,'' Schiano said Monday before beginning intense preparations for the upcoming NFC South matchup at Raymond James Stadium. "You saw a lot of kid come out of a lot of these men when we won the game. Yes, I enjoy it. It's kind of like a parent … it's fun to watch them enjoy it.''
The Bucs have won five of their past six games after a 1-3 start, vaulting themselves in the thick of the NFC wild-card chase. They are tied with Minnesota and Seattle for the No. 6 playoff seed, three games behind the 9-1 Falcons heading into Sunday's game.
"It's a division game – we're playing well and they're playing well,'' Bucs WR Tiquan Underwood said. "Hopefully, the fans come out to support us and lift the blackout. It would be great for the city of Tampa.''
Only three of Tampa Bay's past 20 regular-season home games have been televised locally and the Bucs have until Thursday afternoon to lift the blackout by selling at least 85 percent of non-premium seats.
As of Monday, about 11,000 non-premium seats remained available, of which 7,400 need to be sold to avoid a blackout, according to a late-afternoon post on the team's Twitter account.
"Sunday's going to be a fun one,'' said Clark, a 10-year veteran who joined the Bucs as a free agent from Indianapolis. "It's going to be a great environment, a great atmosphere. I expect a hard-fought, 60-minute-and-then-some type of game. (The Falcons) are good and their record shows it. From the outside looking in, they're real good.''
The Bucs are averaging 28.7 points per game, tied with the surging Saints for the top mark in the NFC. Atlanta's Matt Ryan leads the league in completions and passing yards and the Falcons overcame six turnovers Sunday to rally past Arizona, 23-19.
Schiano praised the toughness of RG Jamon Meredith, who started on Sunday, only four days after an ankle injury suffered in practice left him in crutches.
"It was miraculous,'' Schiano said. "If you saw the hit on video from practice, you'd sit there and say this guy may be done for the year.''
CB Eric Wright tweaked a sore ankle on Sunday and is week-to-week, Schiano said.
LT Donald Penn limped out the game for a few snaps in the opening quarter, but appeared fine.
On Monday, Underwood showed no effects from a shoulder he took to the helmet during the game-tying drive that prompted an unnecessary roughness flag against Carolina LB Thomas Davis.
"It was a physical ballgame,'' Schiano said.
For the first time in 13 games, the Bucs emerged with a win on a day they lost the turnover battle.
Tampa Bay posted one takeaway while the offense turned the ball over three times, including a disputed goal-line fumble by rookie RB Doug Martin that wrecked an 80-yard drive.
"We never give up,'' Underwood said. "We never get down on each other and we never get too high or too low.''
Is that a reflection of the head coach?
"Absolutely,'' said Underwood, who played for Schiano at Rutgers. "Each team is going to take on the characteristics of their coach – and I'm glad he's our guy. We feed off of him and we're going to continue to do so.''
In a statistical oddity, while the Saints (6.12) and Bucs (6.08) rank 1-2 in the league in average yards per offensive snap, New Orleans (6.5) and Tampa Bay (6.04) are also the NFL's most porous defenses per snap. …Bucs P Michael Koenen has excelled on kickoffs, topping the NFL with 44 touchbacks. …Atlanta used to center its attack around the hard running of Michael Turner, but the Falcons now throw on 63 percent of their plays from scrimmage.