TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers insist they aren’t listening to “noise” outside their locker rooms.
The unbeaten NFC rivals meet in prime time Monday night, each sporting 2-0 records that have spawned questions about realistic expectations for the season.
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles have been less dominant than many felt they’d be coming off a Super Bowl appearance last winter. The Bucs have been better than anticipated with much-traveled Baker Mayfield following Tom Brady at quarterback.
“Listen, are we going to be playing the same football we played on Feb. 12 last year right now? No, we’re not. Nobody is,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “We’re on this climb. We’re starting back from the beginning.”
Philadelphia held off New England on the road and survived a home test against Minnesota the past two weeks.
With Mayfield playing turnover-free ball, the Bucs defeated the Vikings on the road and then handed the struggling Bears their 12th consecutive loss last week.
“The thing we did best last year was take it one day at a time, one game at a time, everything. Little bits at a time,” Sirianni said. “It’s a hard mindset to have because you want to have the expectations. … And, it’s not necessarily the expectations of us. It’s expectations of the outside world.”
The “outside” chatter about the Bucs in the aftermath of Brady’s retirement has mostly painted a picture of gloom and doom for the season.
Mayfield is with his fourth team in two years and coming off a season in which he lost eight of 10 starts with the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams.
The No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 draft is accustomed to being second-guessed. He said the Bucs didn’t allow negative prognostications to bother them in the offseason, so there’s no need to listen to what’s being said now that they’ve won two games.
“That’s been the narrative, but we’ve known the whole time what we have in this locker room and the team that we’re trying to build, where we’re trying to head,” Mayfield said. “The important part now is not letting the outside noise affect us in the building. We didn’t let it affect us before, why let it do it now?”
Sirianni said the Eagles, who lost twice (including postseason) to the Brady-led Bucs two seasons ago, are simply trying to improve week to week.
“We understand everybody is going to have opinions, and we just have to focus on ourselves,” the coach added. ”We have to focus on getting better every day. It’s really as boring and monotonous as that. Just put your head down, go to work, block out noise if you’re somebody that gets affected by that.”
The Bucs, meanwhile, embrace the challenge of facing the defending NFC champions. Coach Todd Bowles, though, stopped short of calling it a litmus test for his team.
“We look at every week like that. The fact that they’re 2-0 and went to the Super Bowl doesn’t bother us. We’re trying to go 3-0,” Bowles said.
“There’s going to be challenges every week for us. They’re going to be bigger as the weeks go on,” the Bucs coach added. “We’re looking to get better as a team, no matter who we’re playing.”
For teams that have never been paired in the same division, the Eagles and Bucs have developed quite a rivalry.
Tampa Bay leads the all-time series 11-10, including a 3-2 edge in the postseason. In the most recent matchup, Brady led the Bucs to a 31-15 win in a NFC wild-card game at home in January 2022. Three months earlier, Tampa Bay won a prime-time, regular-season matchup 28-22 in Philadelphia.
Eagles fans probably best remember Hall of Famer Ronde Barber for clinching Tampa Bay’s win over Philadelphia in the 2002 NFC championship game with a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown, sending the Bucs to the Super Bowl for the first time.
Tampa Bay lost in Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs each of the previous two seasons.
Barber, the fourth member of that team to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, will receive his Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence during a halftime ceremony Monday night.
RUN EAGLES RUN
The Eagles have the NFL’s No. 2 ranked rushing offense, averaging 178 yards per game. Hurts ran for two TDs and threw for a third against the Vikings, while D’Andre Swift finished with a career-high 175 rushing on 28 carries.
“We’re going to ride the hot hand. Do I think it’s sustainable? Shoot, his body is ready to go,” Sirianni said of Swift’s workload. “I don’t ever want to put an expectation on anybody. If he’s got the hot hand on Monday night, we’ll keep rolling with him.”
For the record, the Bucs are allowing 52 yards per game rushing, second-fewest in the NFL. The Eagles are No. 1, yielding 51 a game.