NFL Preview – Tampa Bay (1-6) at Cleveland (4-3) (ET)

By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

( – Lovie Smith is getting a little too familiar with the

The former NFC champion coach with the Chicago Bears has held the reins for
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for just seven games, but he’s already gotten a few
seasons’ worth of gut punches.

The Bucs held a three-point home lead against Minnesota last week, but allowed
a tying field goal on the final play of regulation and lost on a fumble return
touchdown after exactly 17 seconds of overtime.

It was the fourth time this season that Tampa Bay lost by six points or fewer.
The other two losses were blowouts, coming by 31 and 42 points.

“We let one slip away,” Smith said. “Late in the game, we needed someone to
step up.”

In addition to a further test of Smith’s nerves, this Sunday’s visit to
Cleveland could be a referendum for quarterback Mike Glennon. The second-year
man has started four straight games since veteran Josh McCown suffered a thumb
injury against Atlanta in Week 3, but he’s thrown an interception in each
outing while completing just 56.8 percent of his passes.

McCown was healthy enough to play last week when Glennon got the nod, but
Smith hasn’t specifically tipped his hand on who’ll handle the signal-calling
assignments going forward.

“If we were going to make a change I wouldn’t talk about it an awful lot, but
the plan isn’t for that,” he said. “Mike did some good things. You’d always
like to have a couple plays back. But the first thing I thought about as far
as improving our ball club wasn’t, ‘Gosh, we’ve got to make a change at

There were, however, some other moves on the roster. The Bucs signed defensive
tackle Gerald McCoy to a seven-year deal worth $98 million, then traded strong
safety Mark Barron – the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft – to the St.
Louis Rams for a fourth-round and a sixth-round pick.

McCoy was the No. 3 pick in the 2010 draft.

“The best feeling in the world is going to be when we turn this thing around,
and to know you were a part of it,” he said. “That you didn’t run from a
challenge, you didn’t run from the fight. I love a fight. I don’t like
fighting, but I love this fight.”

Browns coach Mike Pettine revels in the fight, too, but not so much in the
post-fight analysis.

Cleveland didn’t fill a highlight reel while managing just 39 rushing yards
overall and not crossing the goal line until the fourth quarter last week
against winless Oakland, but the 23-13 win still counts.

It was also well-timed, after an ugly 24-6 loss to then-winless Jacksonville a
week earlier.

The Browns have won three of four to improve to 4-3 and remain in contention
in a congested AFC North. Cleveland won four games in 16 tries last season and
has passed five wins just once since 2005.

“You’re going to have games like that,” Pettine said. “When you look back at
your wins there’s going to be some ugly ones, and that one certainly wasn’t
the prettiest.

“But I’ll sit up here and talk about ugly wins for a lot of Mondays. I could
probably tell you a handful of plays from the four wins. I could tell you a
lot of plays from the three losses. We have to move on to the next one. You
don’t get caught up in records. It’s way too early to even think about that

The run game has sputtered lately, accounting for just 108 yards in the last
two games while leading ball-carrier Ben Tate has averaged just two yards per
carry. Additionally, the Browns are 29th of 32 teams in total defense with a
per-week clip of 395.6 yards allowed.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer is 7-3 across parts of two seasons as a starter,
though he’s 32nd of 33 eligible quarterbacks when it comes to completion
percentage – 57.3 – while tossing eight touchdowns against only two
interceptions. He was 19-for-28 against Oakland for 275 yards and a touchdown.

“We won the football game. That’s bottom line,” Pettine said. “As long as our
quarterback is playing good enough for us to win – we’re not looking for style
points. We’re looking for wins. That’s what we’re ultimately judged on here.
I’ll take ugly wins all day.”


Justifying a Big Purchase

Tampa Bay’s McCoy will stroll into this weekend with a jam-packed bank account
and the momentum provided by notching his team’s lone sack last week, but
he’ll face a challenging task while going head-to-head with rookie guard Joel
Bitonio. The University of Nevada product has transitioned from tackle to
guard in his initial pro season and has helped the Browns’ O-line allow just
10 sacks in seven games.

Keeping V-Jack in Check

It was no gimme that Vincent Jackson would remain with the Buccaneers through
this week’s trading deadline, but his lingering presence on the roster means
he’ll be linked with Cleveland’s top cornerback – former University of Florida
star Joe Haden. Haden had nine tackles, two pass deflections and a fumble
recovery against Oakland, but will be putting his 5-foot-11 frame against
Jackson’s 6-foot-5 stature.


The Browns are probably not the league’s best 4-3 team and the Buccaneers are
certainly not the league’s worst at 1-6. Not to mention, Cleveland hasn’t
impressed anyone while losing to a winless Jacksonville team and struggling to
beat a winless Oakland one. But Hoyer’s been more effective – if not more
impressive – than Glennon, and he should find a way at home once again.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Browns 27, Buccaneers 20