Although he did not play vs. the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Matt Bryant will remain questionable on the team’s injury report with a hamstring injury.

Should Bryant not be able to play, K Todd France will handle kicking duties for the Bucs as they prepare to face the Carolina Panthers.

“I’ve never really been comfortable with hamstrings to even comment,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Bryant. “Every one of them is different, especially when you are talking about your kicker. So, we’ll keep Todd France on the roster and we feel very, very comfortable with him going into Carolina.”

France was 1-of-2 on field goal attempts in place of Bryant during Tampa Bay’s 10-3 win over New Orleans. The Saints blocked his first attempt, a 44-yarder in the first quarter. However, France rebounded in the fourth quarter by drilling a 29-yarder.

“I thought it was a little bit low,” Gruden said of France’s blocked field goal attempt. “We’ve got to be a little bit more stout on our protection, but trajectory was an issue there. But he did kickoff well, and made a key field goal in the game.”

In other injury news, Bucs linebacker Marquis Cooper (chest) and safety Will Allen (knee) are both expected to return to action this week. Guard Sean Mahan (ankle) and defensive end Dewayne White will likely appear on the official injury report on Wednesday but are expected to play vs. the Panthers.

Eight Is Enough?
With their 10-3 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers improved to 8-4 on the season and are just one game behind the 9-3 Carolina Panthers in the NFC South division.

While getting to eight wins guarantees the Bucs their first non-losing season since 2002, the team still has its sights set on securing a spot in the playoffs.

“It’s not the greatest day of my life, winning eight games,” said Gruden. “You’re only going to be judged on winning Super Bowls, as far as I am concerned. We don’t have Gator Bowls, or Bluebonnet Bowls, or any other gifts, or wrist watches that we are going to get for having a winning season, or becoming bowl eligible. We had to rebuild our team in a lot of ways. We played a lot of young players. We have a back-up quarterback, a back-up kicker. We’ve played a number of guys. They are out there competing every week. It’s a big accomplishment to win a football game in this league. I think a lot of coaches, and people who follow other teams know the best of that. Four games left, two on the road, two at home. We want to get into the tournament, and win the Super Bowl. That’s the only goal we have here. I could care less about five wins, or eight wins, or 10 wins. If you get to the playoffs and don’t advance, it’s not a very happy ending.”

Although they are one game behind the Panthers for first place in the NFC South division, the Bucs have positioned themselves well for a playoff run. If the season ended today, the Bucs would secure the first Wild Card playoff spot in the NFC.

But a division title is still within reach. Tampa Bay can climb into a first-place tie with Carolina by defeating the Panthers on Sunday. However, that would mean pulling off a huge upset seeing as the Panthers have defeated the Bucs five straight times dating back to the 2003 season, including a 34-14 win at Raymond James Stadium earlier this season.

“Well, they saw us at our worst, and they certainly had a hand in that themselves,” Gruden said of the Panthers. “They are very talented…very, very talented indeed. Fortunately, (defensive tackle) Kris Jenkins isn’t part of this right now, because the front that they do possess on defense is as good as there is in the league. They have a great scheme, they’ve been able to maintain continuity, it’s a credit to them. They’ve got some explosive playmakers on offense; a great field goal kicker; they have all the ingredients to be a really good team. We’ve lost some tight games we should have won, or could have won. It’s an emotional game. You’ve got to coach better, obviously. We’ve got to deliver, I think, some more key play-making in key times. That’s going to be a theme that we have to live by this week.”


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