Facing their third NFC East opponent of the season on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to earn some respect along with a victory.

Throughout the season, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has continually made reference to his team’s difficult schedule. Certainly, some of his reasoning has to do with the fact the Bucs play the NFC East division this season, a division historically recognized for its physicality, going back to the days of L.T. (Lawrence Taylor) and the Giants and the Hogs on the Redskins offensive line.

Over the last 20 years, a team from that division has represented the NFC in the Super Bowl nine times. In the first 10-year span, from 1987 to 1996, an NFC East team accounted for one half of the Super Bowl match up on seven occasions.

Washington’s John Riggins, Dallas’ Emmitt Smith, Philadelphia’s Reggie White and New York’s Harry Carson, it’s a division that has been defined over the years as being adept in rushing the football and playing physical on defense. But Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan believes it gets a little more media hype because of the lineage of great coaches.

“You have Bill Parcells, Andy Reid, Joe Gibbs and Tom Coughlin,” he said. “Those are great coaches, some Hall of Fame coaches. So I think if you’re looking for a difference [between the NFC East and the NFC South], I think you have that.
 “I think that’s what people always go back to, the coaches. Because Parcells coached against Gibbs when he was with the Giants and everyone has worked under each other or gone against each other some way or another. It makes for a really good story line.”

At 3-6, Washington is the only NFC East team with a losing record. The Bucs split their two previous outings against the NFC East this season, defeating Philadelphia at home on Matt Bryant’s 62-yard field goal, and getting blown around in a loss at New York the last weekend in October.

It’s been a long time since Tampa Bay has had to face Philadelphia, New York, Washington and Dallas in one year. You have to go all the way back to the Bucs’ second season in1977 to find the last time they played the entire NFC East. That year they went 1-4 against those teams and were outscored a combined 63-27.

The lone win came in the 1977 season finale, a 17-7 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, who were a member of the East until realignment in 2002.

In an interesting side note, in 1984 and 1979, although they were in different divisions, the Buccaneers faced off against the New York Giants twice in the same regular season, apparently in an NFL scheduling quirk that pitted a fifth place team from one division against the fifth place team of another division.

Historically, Tampa Bay has a losing record against all four teams in the division, a combined 19-27, in what we now know as the NFC East. But then again, considering the franchise’s upbringing, it’s not surprising. There are only four teams in the entire NFL that Tampa Bay has a historical advantage over in head-to-head meetings.

But if recent history is any indication, than Hovan and his teammates could be staring at their third victory Sunday. Tampa Bay has won five of the last six home meetings against Washington, although the one loss came in last season’s 17-10 defeat in the NFC Wildcard game.

“Yeah, we have a little bit of history with each other,” Hovan said. “We’re always excited to play the Washington Redskins. We know it’s going to be a very physical game.”

Redskins running back Clinton Portis has reached the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first five seasons. But that streak has come to an end with Portis being placed on injured reserve this week with a broken hand and lingering shoulder problems.

Enter Ladell Betts, the Redskins’ second-round pick of the 2002 NFL Draft out of Iowa. He carried 89 times for 338 yards last season and against Houston in September of this year, he set his career high with 124 yards rushing.

The Bucs know their opponent isn’t about to abandon the running game simply because Portis is out, and  the first priority remains stopping the ground game.

“I tell you what, they have Ladell Betts and they have T.J. Duckett, and they are both great downhill running backs, so were going to have to get ready to stop that kind of running game.”

Hovan refused to say the defensive line played well against Carolina because the result was a loss. With defensive end Simeon Rice and defensive tackle Ellis Wyms missing practice again Thursday, it looks as if the Bucs could end up using backups Dewayne White and Jovan Haye.

Along the offensive line, Cornell Green took snaps for left tackle Anthony Davis on Thursday. Davis sprained his ankle Wednesday and is listed as questionable.

“One of his jobs is to back up both tackle spots,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Green. “When he was here previously he played on the right side. He does have some experience on the left side.”

Tampa Bay signed rookie cornerback Carlos Hendricks to its practice squad Thursday after having CB Dion Byrum picked up off of its practice squad and signed to the Carolina Panthers active roster.

Hendricks originally entered the NFL in April as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears. He was released in September. 

Cornerback Juran Bolden (hip), T Anthony Davis (ankle), T Donald Penn (foot), RB Michael Pittman (shoulder), LB Shelton Quarles (knee/ankle), DE Simeon Rice (shoulder) and DT Ellis Wyms (ankle) are all listed as questionable. Davis, Rice and Wyms missed practice Thursday for the second consecutive day.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden when asked what he does at this point to keep his players and 2-7 team motivated:

“We signed up for 16 games, so I don’t want to hear about that. This is a 16-game slate. I don’t think we’ve been eliminated. There are a lot of teams I see struggling on tape big-time. So I don’t want to hear about any mental weakness or anybody needing a pep talk to come to work. The Glazers have given us a great facility, and we have another opportunity on Sunday. We have a good group of guys that work hard. I’m really proud of them and the effort they’re giving us.”

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