PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jameis Winston grew up rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles and singing their fight song.
“I’ve been saying, ‘Fly Eagles Fly,’ my whole life,” Winston said. “Now I have to go up there and face them.”
The rookie No. 1 overall pick leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) against the Eagles (4-5) on Sunday in a game with important playoff ramifications for both teams.
The Eagles can move into a tie with the idle New York Giants (5-5) for first place in the NFC East. The Buccaneers are two games behind in the race for a wild-card spot.
For Winston, it’s a dream come true to play at the Linc. His favorite player is Randall Cunningham, who played for the Eagles at old Veterans Stadium. Winston called Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins his childhood heroes.
Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans has been Winston’s role model since he was a kid. Ryans also grew up in Bessemer, Alabama. Winston called Ryans a “hometown hero” who is admired by many in their little town.
“He impacted my life and many kids’ lives,” Winston said.
Here’s some things to know about the Buccaneers-Eagles game:
THE SANCHIZE: Mark Sanchez is expected to make his first start of the season because Sam Bradford is recovering from a concussion and left shoulder injury. Sanchez threw a crucial interception in the end zone in a 20-19 loss to Miami late in the fourth quarter last week. Thad Lewis would be active for the first time this season and serves as his backup.
GET FRESH DOUGIE: After three straight 100-yard rushing games, Tampa’s Doug Martin has only 165 yards in the past three games combined and is average per carry over that span is just 3.2. But Martin could be due for a breakout game against the Eagles, who’ve allowed 100-yard rushers in two of the past three games. Carolina’s James Stewart had 125 vs. Philadelphia in Week 7 and Darren McFadden had 117 for Dallas in Week 9.
CATCH THIS: Outside receivers Riley Cooper and Miles Austin played 97 snaps for the Eagles last week and had no catches. Austin was the target on the interception thrown by Sanchez in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. He didn’t appear to make a play for the ball and Sanchez said they miscommunicated on the play. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had no problem with slot receiver Jordan Matthews and tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz making most of the plays.
“There’s a team up in New England that throws the ball inside a lot and nobody is probably asking about why they don’t throw it outside,” he said.
GOING DEEP: Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans is averaging 16.6 yards per reception, the third-most in the NFL for players who have 40 or more catches. He also has 12 catches of 20 yards or more. Winston takes plenty of shots deep so cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll have to be at their best against Evans.
“He’s very talented at going up and getting the ball,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “He’s a main target and he’s a big threat down the field.”
KICKING GAME: Tampa’s Connor Barth has made 14 of 16 field goals, but both of his misses came in the past two games. He also hit a pair of 50-yarders in those games. Philadelphia’s Caleb Sturgis missed a 32-yarder that turned out to be the difference in a 1-point loss. Eagles punter Donnie Jones had a punt blocked for the second time last week. Two-time Pro Bowl long-snapper Jon Dorenbos had poor snaps on both plays.
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