Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 pm.

Koetter could be coaching for his job

The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played at Dallas two years ago, it was the highlight of the Dirk Koetter regime.

Tampa Bay was 8-5, having won five games in a row. The game was flexed to Sunday night football. It was a marquee matchup against the Cowboys.

The Bucs fought hard, took the lead in the third quarter but fell to the Cowboys 26-20.

Much has changed for the Bucs, who travel to Dallas for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game.

Tampa Bay is 5-9 and have been eliminated from all post-season hopes. Koetter is on the hottest seat in the NFL. Quarterback Jameis Winston has struggled to put many points on the board against the Saints and at Baltimore.

“The players were excited to play there,” Koetter said. “It was a cool stadium to play in. We fell behind, made a furious comeback and got back in it. And then we couldn’t get back in the end. We had a chance in the two-minute offense and that’s basically what I remember.”

Koetter’s fate isn’t promising. Counting that night at Dallas, he’s lost 22 of his last 33 games. Winston still is looking for a road win. The Bucs are looking for reasons to give him a fifth year in Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, Dallas is coming off a shutout loss at Indianapolis and still looking to clinch the NFC East.

They’ve been helped in that effort by the trade for Raiders receiver Amari Cooper, who has given the Cowboys a deep threat and play-making ability at receiver.

“Just from what I heard – I wasn’t watching them then – but they said they had felt like they were lacking an explosive playmaker on the outside and he’s definitely been that,” Koetter said of Cooper. “We had him as one of our game-wreckers today and finding clips of him making explosive plays wasn’t hard. In the Washington game and the Eagles game – both – I mean, he made huge plays. I think he had close to 200 yards in one of those games, if not over that. He’s definitely given them a lift on the outside and they’ve had some injuries this year at tight end and some of their other wide receivers. They’ve got the No. 1 rusher in the league (Ezekiel Elliott) and Cooper’s definitely given them a lift on the outside.

“He’s added speed, which they already have, but he added speed and productivity and long-ball opportunity. Just another explosive weapon in an offense that’s got very, very good players, another one comes aboard and it gets even more prolific. This team is playing at a high level right now. They’ve been really – from a run and pass standpoint – productive and scoring points. It’s going be, like I said, a very formal task for us.”

The Bucs defense has improved under Mark Duffner, who replaced Mike Smith as defensive coordinator.

Said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, “I think they’ve not allowed big plays. They’ve kind of kept things in front of him and played with I think a little better technique. I think that that’s probably the biggest thing right now is that they’re playing with some confidence and making plays. I’m pleased that these people when they do come in they’re accepting the opportunity with the role they get and doing their best with it and that’s all you can ask.”

The Bucs can play spoiler Sunday. But it may be too late to change anything for Koetter and his staff.

SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 12-4. The two teams met almost exactly two years ago in Dallas and the Cowboys prevailed 26-20. The Bucs entered the game 8-5 while Dallas was 10-2. QB Jameis Winston threw three INTs and lost a fumble.