The National Football League announced Monday that the kickoff time for Tampa Bay’s home game against Carolina on Dec. 26 has been moved from 1:00 p.m. ET to 4:15 p.m. ET.

The move was made to accommodate Fox’s television schedule.

Tight ends Will Heller (hip) and Ken Dilger (sore ribs), safeties John Howell (ankle sprain) and Dexter Jackson (hamstring) will likely be listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

Offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker (left leg bruise) and S Jermaine Phillips (forearm) will likely be listed as questionable when the Bucs release their official injury report on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay was penalized 12 times for 111 yards during Sunday’s 31-24 loss to San Diego.

Penalties have contributed to all eight of the Bucs’ losses, especially on the road, where 50 of the team’s 94 penalties have come this season.

“Penalties on the road have been a problem,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “Again, some of the penalties that were called yesterday I don’t have to agree with. I’ve got to be careful what I say, given the fact that I don’t want to be fined. But there were some penalties yesterday that I don’t necessarily agree with. At the same time, there are some false starts, there are some penalties that are legitimate that were costly. We do seem to commit numerous penalties on the road. I know the crowd is a factor; then again, I’ve got to take responsibility for that.”

Although Sunday’s loss to San Diego was a devastating one, the 5-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still alive for a Wild Card playoff spot.

To get into the playoffs, the Bucs must win their final three regular season games and hope the St. Louis Rams lose two of their three remaining contests, which is possible since the Rams have to play the 12-1 Philadelphia Eagles and the 9-4 New York Jets over the next three weeks.

But first things first. The Bucs must defeat the 5-8 New Orleans Saints in order to keep their playoff aspirations on life support.

“The focus doesn’t change,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “You’ve got to practice and prepare for every game with the same intent, and that’s to win. We’ve got to take a good look here at our roster, see who’s healthy, what adjustments need to be and obviously do everything we can to prepare extremely well and try to win our fifth straight home game. The Saints are coming off a big impressive win in Dallas yesterday. I believe their record is that of ours. We’ve got to be ready to go.”

During Monday morning’s press conference, Gruden dismissed a few questions that suggested the Bucs should play younger players since their playoff hopes are slim.

“We’ve been evaluating from the very beginning,” said Gruden. “There’s not a team in football that’s probably played more people than we have. We’ve lost three defensive tackles, and when Howell goes down that’s three safeties. Ian Smart’s playing, Earnest Graham’s playing. You might see a couple new faces — who knows? But we’re going to continue to try to win the football game, because that’s the right thing to do. We’ve got a lot of pride in our locker room. At the same time, there are some young players getting increased playing time, and hopefully they can take advantage of it.

“We’re going to play the guys that have earned the right to play. We are not going to make wholesale changes in our line. We are playing young players here. We’re playing young guys. Sean Mahan is the center. Michael Clayton is a young guy playing. Will Allen played a lot yesterday. He’s a young guy. Just because we lost the game yesterday doesn’t mean we are going to make wholesale changes. Will Heller is a young guy. We have a lot of young guys playing. Ian Smart is going to play a little bit more, as is Earnest Graham. We’re going to try to win this game.”

Despite throwing three interceptions in Sunday’s 31-24 loss to San Diego, Brian Griese will remain Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback.

Griese was picked off three times, the last of which came in the fourth quarter when linebacker Donnie Edwards stepped in front of a pass intended for wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, hauled it in and raced 30 yards to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. That was the second time Griese has had an interception returned for a touchdown in the past three games.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden didn’t hesitate to defend Griese, who also completed 36-of-50 (72 percent) passes and threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns.

“The shocking thing is the one interception on the last play of the first half, I credit him for even throwing it in the field of play,” said Gruden. “I see a lot of quarterbacks throwing it into the stands to save those rating points. On the last play of the half, he put it up in the field of play. It was intercepted.

“The first interception was a screen pass. It was third-and-15, somewhat of a predictable hit-or-miss call. He did not see Donnie Edwards. That was a bad interception. The other interception was a zone concept, where he reset, looked for [Joe] Jurevicius, never saw Donnie Edwards, threw a blind ball. The two interceptions he threw will be plays he will never throw an interception on again. You take out those two plays; the guy is at times phenomenal. He is tough. He gets up off the ground. He is throwing the ball extremely accurate. He is managing a lot of football and moving the ball up and down the field at times on the road against a team that, if you watch them on tape, the last four or five weeks has been very, very good. I am encouraged by him, tremendously encouraged by what he has done and what he brings to this football team.”

With the Bucs still in the playoff hunt, Gruden said he will not turn the offense over to Chris Simms in an effort evaluate the second-year signal caller and give him some playing time.

“I see him everyday,” Gruden said of Simms. “I am not going to do that. Brian Griese is throwing for 70 percent. That is a feat that has only been accomplished a handful of times in the history of this game. He is doing a phenomenal job. Chris Simms will get an opportunity at some point again and when opportunity knocks, he has got to be ready. It is a credit to Chris for continuing to work and next week, we’ll see what happens. If Brian keeps going like he is going I don’t foresee him coming out of the lineup anytime soon.”

With his team-leading nine catches for 145 yards and one touchdown, Bucs rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton continues to impress. He currently leads the team in receptions (70) and receiving yards (988) and has four scores.

Although Clayton has posted some imressive numbers, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said the rookie still has plenty of room to improve.

“He’s getting better and better,” Gruden said of Clayton. “There are three or four plays yesterday that he will learn from; mistakes that he did make. His stamina, I believe, whether he admits it to you or not, will improve as he becomes a pro football player and matures physically. The offseason, the grind that he has got to put himself through to be at his peak, his greatness, in the fourth quarter, when he is sore in week 14. Those are traits that are going to come to him, but this is as tough a football player as I have been around. He pushes himself to the limit. We just have to help him have a great offseason, where he can go even further, deeper. That’s a goal that we have. A program will be developed for him, but I think he has a chance to be rare. He’s got a chance to be.”

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the playoff hunt and the stress caused by losing some key games:
“It is much like last year. I lost a lot of hair and lost a lot of sleep last year. I love football. I am not going to change. I think we missed eight field goals on the road this year. I don’t know what the deal is with that, but we have missed eight field goals on the road. We’ve had a couple of interceptions run back for touchdowns. It is, like I said a couple of weeks ago, I can’t remember the word I used . . . maddening. It is maddening. I love the game. I love our players. We are going to do everything we can to win this game. It will be, hopefully, our fifth game in a row that we win at home. It won’t be easy. The Saints are showing a lot of grit, determination and character themselves. We’re not alone in this state of depression. It is temporary. We have to fight our butts out of this and by God, do it. We’re going to do it.”

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