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Lovie Smith: Buccaneers will play to win season finale, not preserve draft position

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TAMPA, Florida — Winning could hurt Tampa Bay's chances of landing the No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 NFL draft.

However, 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 next 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 much of the roster after being hired last winter, including 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 net yards in a 20-3 loss to Green Bay.

Smith rejects 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've kind of answered that question a few times. 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," the coach added. "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.

While Smith has been encouraged by the development of the team's top three draft picks — receiver Mike Evans, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Charles Sims — he is looking forward to improving the roster with an additional infusion of young talent next season.

"If you have to be down here, you need to get something from it," Smith said, alluding to the impending draft position.

"We have a full allotment of draft picks. We have an excellent staff that evaluates guys," the coach added. "That's the positive if you look at it. ... If you have to be down where we are, why not get your choice of a few of the best players available in the draft?"

Smith 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, adding the players are not worried about where the team winds up in the draft.

"We're going to make decisions," the coach said, "that give us the best chance to win ... and let everything else take care of itself."


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