Two days after head coach Jon Gruden admitted that quarterback Jeff Garcia might have a sore throwing arm, as reported by Pewter Report and the St. Petersburg Times, Gruden backtracked on Wednesday, saying, "A lot of that is unbelievable. I don't know where all that came from. Jeff is fine."

During his Wednesday press conference, Garcia appeared to be irritated by the reports of his sore arm.

"Wouldn't you be?" Gruden asked. "Everyone is asking you about your health and you're fine. You're walking around and your arm might start hurting if people keep asking about it. I say leave Garcia alone. He's going to play his style and he's been very effective for us. Garcia is healthy and ready to go."

But those comments differed from what was reported in the St. Petersburg Times on Monday when Gruden was asked if he had a sore arm: "I think so. Brad Johnson went through it. All the veteran quarterbacks go through it. We're one of the few teams right now that have had a guy go all the way at quarterback this season. We're going to do the best we can. If we have to be creative with the practice schedule, we'll be creative with the practice schedule as we have been in the last couple weeks. That's just something you have to respond to."

Garcia refuted reports that he had a sore arm on his weekly radio appearance on the Ron and Ian Show on WDAE 620 AM on Tuesday, and reiterated his position on Wednesday in front of the local media at his press conference.

"I think I'm going to put myself on I.R. because of the things that some of you guys say," Garcia said. "That was news to me. I don't even know where that came from. I have been fine all year long. I feel fine. It kind of bothers me that that was even brought up because that hasn't been an issue. I feel great coming back. I feel very motivated, very energized, very excited to get back to doing what we need to do."

The Georgia Dome hasn't been at full capacity this year and the Falcons-49ers game was blacked out on local television in Atlanta because the game did not sell out within 72 hours prior to kickoff. But the Falcons won that contest, in addition to last week's road game at Carolina, improving their record to 3-6 after a 1-6 start to the season.

The two-game winning streak might put more Falcons fans in the seats for this Sunday's rivalry game with Tampa Bay. That could make the Georgia Dome a noisy place. To that end, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden was blaring the taped crowd noise at practice on Wednesday at One Buccaneer Place to simulate the loud environment of a domed stadium.

The key for the Bucs winning at Atlanta is to get an early lead and quiet the crowd, according to right guard Davin Joseph.

"We definitely want to take the crowd out of it," Joseph said. "Especially in loud places like Seattle and Indianapolis. Those are probably the two loudest places in terms of crowd noise and being in a hostile environment. If you can survive in those two places I don't think there are any other places that can match the noise. You have to respect the fact that it is in a dome and that the Falcons are a rival of ours."

For offensive linemen like Joseph and left tackle Donald Penn, being able to hear the snap count is imperative to prevent false start penalties and to avoid opposing defensive linemen from getting a jump on the snap.

"That's always the plan – to get ahead on the scoreboard – but it's even more important on the road in a loud, domed stadium," Penn said. "We need to quiet the crowd and we'll go in there with the game plan to do that. Atlanta is a very good team, especially at home, and it's not going to be easy."

The Bucs have already played in one domed stadium this season at Detroit's Ford Field, and over the next three road games Tampa Bay will have to play in the Georgia Dome (November 18), the Superdome in New Orleans (December 2) and Houston's Reliant Stadium (December 9) in the coming weeks.

While some Buccaneers spent their bye week healing up and resting, Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn spent his bye week studying his next opponent, Falcons defensive end John Abraham. With a team-leading six sacks and three forced fumbles, Abraham is having a great season and may be Penn's stiffest challenge to date as he embarks on his sixth career NFL start since entering the lineup after Luke Petitgout's season-ending knee injury at Carolina in Week 4.

"He's a great player," Penn said. "It's like going against Dwight Freeney and Kyle Vandenbosh. I have my work cut out for me this week. I've been watching film on him trying to see if I can see any little things I can use, but it's hard. He's a great player. He's light, but he doesn't play light. I got my work cut out for me again. I'm going to have to refine my technique and go out and do my best."

Before watching his next opponent, Penn reviewed the Arizona game and did some self-scouting.

"I sat down and watched the Arizona game by myself during the bye week and tried to fine tune all of the little things that I wasn't doing right," Penn said. "This week in practice I just need to correct all that stuff because this is a big week. Abraham is one of the top defensive ends in the league."

Abraham has recorded 63.5 sacks and 26 forced fumbles during his eight-year NFL career with five of his six sacks and all three forced fumbles in 2007 coming at home in the Georgia Dome.

The Buccaneers were blessed with both the Panthers and Saints losing last Sunday during their bye week, thus maintaining 5-4 Tampa Bay's one-game lead over both 4-5 teams. The Bucs are the only NFC South team with a perfect record at 2-0, and the team realizes this is a great opportunity to put a stranglehold on the division with a win in Atlanta.

"Let's take this game for what it is – the final division opponent," said Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks. "We're 2-0 in the division, trying to make it 3-0."

Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia said: "It is big. It's big to take that next step in the division and basically secure the first half of the six games we have within the division. This would be a great step for this team. I know last year there were some tough games and some tough losses against the Falcons. So it's important to find a way to turn it around.

"Atlanta poses a difficult challenge in the sense that we're playing there. Their defense has been a strong point for that team. They have played really well defensively. They have given themselves a chance to win football games because of their defense."

Atlanta's defense is ranked 16th in total defense, allowing 323.7 yards per game, but has stiffened over its two-game winning streak, allowing just 16 points at home against San Francisco and only 13 points in its road win at Carolina last week.

One of the offensive players the Bucs must account for vs. the Falcons is former Tampa Bay running back Warrick Dunn, who has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry this season but needs just 58 yards to reach the 10,000-yard rushing mark in his career.

“I don’t know who ever questioned his ability. He’s a great back," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Dunn. "One of the sick days in my life is when we lost him. He’s, I think, 60 yards shy of 10,000. You don’t get 10,000 yards unless you’re a Hall of Fame talent. He’s one of the great guys there are in football. I just hope he doesn’t get that 10,000 milestone against us. But we’re proud of what he did for our franchise and we look forward to competing with him, as always.”

Although it ranks 27th in the NFL in total offense, the Atlanta Falcons are much more talented on that side of the ball than that statistic suggests, according to Gruden.

"When you lose a guy like [quarterback Michael Vick] your scheme is going to change because he creates his own offense," said Gruden. "He's not here so why talk about him? They've been playing 10 weeks now without him. They're going to play against us without him. They still have the components to be very explosive offensively. They have two great running backs [in Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood] , they added a high-priced fullback [Ovie Mughelli] that will knock you out. [Tight end Alge] Crumpler is a Pro Bowler. They've had some injuries along the offensive line, but they're still explosive. Just watch the film and it will get your attention."

"They should not be a 3-6 football team and they know it."

With the playoffs within reach for the 5-4 Buccaneers, the road to the postseason may get a little scary – literally. Three of Tampa Bay's next four games are on the road, starting this week at Atlanta, followed by a home contest against Washington and then two road trips to New Orleans and Houston.

Tampa Bay is only 1-3 in road contests this season, with its lone win coming at Carolina and its three losses occurring at Seattle, Indianapolis and Detroit. In those three losses, the Buccaneers lost the turnover battle against the Seahawks and the Lions and protecting the ball is one of the team's paramount concerns as travels away from Raymond James Stadium in three out of the next four weeks.

"We've got to stop turning the ball over," Bucs right guard Davin Joseph said. "That's been the biggest problem we've had. Also, we can't get the three-and-outs on offense. Between staying on the field and converting on third downs and preventing turnovers we'll be fine. We have the right plays and the opportunity to be successful as long as we keep those two things in check."

Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia agreed that turnovers have been the killer for the Bucs in their losses this season. Tampa Bay is 5-0 in games in which it has won the turnover ratio.

"When you look at the three losses that we have on the road, in [all three] of those three losses we have turned the ball over," Garcia said. "You can't afford to do that in tough ballgames. It's tough to win on the road, but outside of the Indianapolis game, we played to a level where we could have won those football games. Unfortunately, we made the mistakes that hurt ourselves. It's important that we find ways to eliminate those mistakes. Those are really difficult to overcome. We're not a team that can necessarily overcome two or three turnovers in a game. It's important that we eliminate those type of errors and also penalties that have come at inopportune times. I think we need to just really be sharp in what we do from our procedure on the ball to our securing the ball. I think if we do those things it gives us an opportunity to win games on the road."

Bucs tight end Alex Smith said that the turnovers – not the road environment – led to the team's three losses away from Tampa Bay.

"The only thing I don't like is the crowd noise when I try to get off on the ball," Smith said. "It's the same – we're in a hotel for a home game and we're in a hotel for an away game. There is really no difference. You have different fans cheering and booing.

"[Winning on the road] is mainly taking care of the ball. Most of those games we lost on the road it we had a negative turnover ratio. The Detroit game we let slip out of our hands. The Indianapolis game was a game that we were still in until late. Take care of the ball and I think we'll be fine."

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden and veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia were sounding the alarm at One Buccaneer Place to not take the bye week or the 3-6 Atlanta Falcons for granted. Gruden's teams in Tampa Bay are 2-3 coming off bye weeks and both he and Garcia were discussing the need to be mentally sharp this Sunday.

"If you're sluggish coming off the bye or sluggish coming off of a win you're going to get beat," said Gruden. "Our players understand that. Hopefully my message gets to them today."

Garcia acknowledged the possibility of the players not being focused coming off the bye week, especially following a win. The Bucs' QB noted that several teams have come off the bye week out of sync, including Tampa Bay's latest opponent, Arizona.

"I think it's always a possibility and that's something that we have to harp on this week as far as getting back to practice and practicing at a high tempo, high speed and working those kinks out," Garcia said. "I think you see it throughout the week when teams come off the bye week and struggle the next week. They weren't meshing the way they did before. We're going to stress that in practice every single day and we're going to make sure that when we step out on the field that we're as prepared as possible, that we're as motivated as possible and that we're ready to go. This is a great opportunity for this team and it's an exciting opportunity.

"This is a great time where we are coming off of a bye. It's important that we don't have any kind of letdown. You look at teams that have come off a bye the last couple of weeks – San Francisco going into Atlanta, came off a bye and got it handed to them. Arizona came here after a bye and we were able to win that football game. It's important that we don't come out sluggish or anything like that, but really ride the high of what we've done and take it to a whole new level. I think this team is capable of winning a lot of football games this year."

Buccaneers weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks on not missing playing against suspended Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick:

"We're not watching film hoping he was there. Whether he was there or not, the offense is moving the ball, and doing a very good job of it the past couple of weeks. That's what we're watching. I know me, personally, I'm not sitting there wondering if he was there playing or not. Harrington is the starter and he's doing a good job for them right now." –

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at:
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