TAMPA, Fla. — Winning could hurt Tampa Bay’s chances of landing the No. 1 selection in the 2015 NFL draft.
But coach Lovie Smith expects his team to practice well and do everything it can to close out a disappointing season with a victory.
At 2-13 heading into Sunday’s finale against the New Orleans Saints (6-9), the Bucs own the NFC’s worst record and will pick no worse than second. The Tennessee Titans (2-13) are the other team in the running for the top pick.
Smith noted Monday that his players have one more opportunity to not only avoid going winless at home but also leave a lasting impression “one way or another” on the staff making evaluations heading into what promises to be another offseason of change.
First-year General Manager Jason Licht and Smith overhauled the roster after being hired last winter, using the entire 2014 draft to bolster an offense that continues to sputter. The Bucs drooped to 31st in total offense after managing a season-low 109 yards in a 20-3 loss to Green Bay.
Smith rejected the notion it would ever be advantageous for a team to enter a game hoping to improve or preserve its projected spot in the draft.
“I think we’re going to end up in good position to get some good players. So to me, that can’t even come into the equation,” Smith said. “(Against the Packers), even though we didn’t play as well, guys fought right up until the end. They weren’t thinking about that pick or anything like that. This week, we’re going to do the same thing.”
Regardless of where the Bucs finish, they undoubtedly will feel pressure to consider selecting a quarterback. Josh McCown, a career backup Smith brought in to be the starter, is the league’s lowest-rated passer.
The coach is quick to point out that McCown’s play isn’t the only reason for Tampa Bay’s problems. The running game has been inconsistent and a porous offensive line has had difficulty protecting the passer. The Packers had seven sacks Sunday, and McCown was hit on five other occasions.
Smith said he doesn’t anticipate any difficulty motivating his players this week. In addition to being 0-7 at home, the Bucs are 0-5 against NFC South rivals, including a 37-31 overtime loss at New Orleans in October.
“We do want to finish it up the right way. I think all our guys realize that,” Smith said. “We’re going to make decisions that give us the best chance to win ... and let everything else take care of itself.”