Clayton Ruled Out For Playoff Game
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to advance past the Washington Redskins in the playoffs, they’ll have to do it without wide receiver Michael Clayton.

Clayton, who is still sporting a boot on his foot in an effort to help him recover from the severe case of turf toe he suffered against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, has been ruled out of Saturday’s playoff game in Tampa. It will mark the second straight game Clayton misses due to the injury.

The second-year receiver did not play during Tampa Bay’s 36-35 win over Washington in Week 10 due to a knee injury. Clayton finished the 2005 regular season with 32 catches for 372 yards and no touchdowns.

However, there is a strong possibility that the Bucs will get starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips back for Saturday’s playoff contest at Raymond James Stadium. He missed Sunday’s game vs. the New Orleans Saints with a knee injury.

“We expect to have Jermaine Phillips back, or at least we’re optimistic,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “I won’t say whether Jermaine is probable or questionable. I’ll just say that rumors are very good that he’ll be back for this game.”

With a short week to prepare for the game vs. the Redskins on Saturday, the Bucs players had off Monday. The Bucs will practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and will hold a walk-thru practice on Friday before taking the field to play the Redskins at 4:30 PM on Saturday.

Bucs Preparing To Face Redskins In Playoffs
Tampa Bay’s 36-35 win over Washington in Week 10 will arguably go down as one of the most exciting games in Bucs history. That’s what makes Saturday’s Bucs-Redskins rematch so intriguing, not to mention it is a playoff game.

A lot has happened since Tampa Bay and Washington clashed in Week 10. The Redskins lost three straight games, including the one to the Bucs, before going on a five-game winning streak to finish the regular season with a 10-6 record.

“Well, they never stay the same,” Gruden said of the Redskins. “That’s one of the great things that they do. Defensively, they mix it up as well as anybody in football. Offensively, Coach [Joe] Gibbs and his offensive staff do a great job of changing looks on a weekly basis. But you still see a lot of [wide receiver] Santana Moss, a lot of [running back] Clinton Portis, [quarterback Mark] Brunell’s making a lot of plays. They’re very balanced on offense and defensively they’re as multiple as anyone we’ll see.”

The Bucs had lost three of their four games heading into the game vs. the Redskins. But after the emotional win that came after fullback Mike Alstott barely reached the end zone on a gutsy two-point conversion call by Gruden with less than a minute remaining in regulation, the Bucs went on to win the NFC South division title by going 6-2 down the stretch.

Not only does he respect the Redskins football team, Gruden admires their head coach, Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, who has got the ‘Skins back to the playoffs this year for the first time since 1999.

“I sure can [appreciate the job he has done],” Gruden said of Gibbs. “I have been a big fan of his, as a lot of coaches have. [He’s a] character guy, a class act and an innovator in football. When you have all of that going for you, it’s not like stepping away from the game for a few years is going to cause you great demise. He’s a great coach and he surrounds himself with high-quality people. If you look at [offensive line coach] Joe Bugel, [offensive coordinator] Don Breaux, [assistant head coach-defense] Gregg Williams and [defensive coordinator/defensive line coach] Greg Blache, what a staff they have. Obviously they have been very aggressive in getting players.”

Saturday’s playoff game will feature two of the hottest teams in football, and only one of them will advance to the NFC Divisional Playoff Game.

The good news for the Bucs they have compiled a 6-2 record at Ray-Jay this season. Although Tampa Bay is just 6-7 all-time in the playoffs, the Bucs are 4-1 at home, including an undefeated mark (2-0) at Raymond James Stadium. Interestingly enough, one of those playoff wins came against the Redskins back in 2000 when the Bucs downed the ‘Skins 14-13 in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game following the 1999 regular season, 14-13.

Been There, Done That
Tampa Bay is in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. That feat marks the sixth time in nine years (1997-2005) that the Bucs have partipated in post-season play. Only eight other teams, Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, Miami, Minnesota, Philadelphia and St. Louis, have made the playoffs six times over the past nine years.

Bucs Defense Simply The Best
Tampa Bay’s defense finished the 2005 regular season ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL by allowing just 277.8 yards per game this season.

The first-place ranking marks the third time in franchise history that the Bucs defense has led the league in total defense at the end of a season. Tampa Bay accomplished that same feat in 1979 and 2002, which was the year the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII.

“I think it’s big,” Gruden said of the team’s defense finishing the season ranked No. 1 overall. “To say you’re No. 1 in the NFL in team defense, statistically speaking, that’s a great accomplishment. It’s a well-coached defense, we’ve got some dynamic playmakers, the effort level, the standards are high and we’ve had a lot of newcomers – [defensive tackle Chris] Hovan and some of our young safety men – come in and really help us. I think the health of [DTs] Anthony McFarland [and] Ellis Wyms certainly helped us this year. Hovan and that front four was very good.”

Under the guidance of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the Bucs defense has finished nine straight seasons ranked in the Top 10. That’s the longest streak in the NFL and is tied for the second-longest streak in the league since 1970.

Gruden Pleased With Simms’ Progress
After struggling through his first two starts of the season in losses to San Francisco and Carolina, Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms has settled in in place of injured Brian Griese as the team’s starting signal caller.

Simms completed 191-of-313 (61 percent) of his passes for 2,035 yards and tossed 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions while going 6-4 as a starter. He also played an integral role in leading the Bucs to an 11-5 regular season record and their first NFC South division title since 2002.

Gruden said he has been pleased with Simms’ progression as a quarterback over the past several games.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of him,” Gruden said of Simms. “He’s done some really good things. That throw he makes at the end of the game to [wide receiver Joey] Galloway with the division title on the line, says a lot about what a clutch performer he is. That wasn’t a hitch or a slant or a wide flare, that was a 46-yard ball that lands right on the screws. He got hit a lot, we had some balls batted down, it was a frustrating situation at times, he missed a wide-open receiver for a touchdown. But he’s got great resolve, he’s a great kid and I love watching him on the sidelines with his teammates. He’s a leader, and that alone has I think helped us as much as anything.”

Chris Simms’ father, Phil, won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, and the Bucs are hoping the third-year quarterback will have similar success in the NFL, even as soon as this post-season.

“We didn’t just draft [Chris] because of his dad,” Gruden said. “That would be a nice gift if his dad was fortunate enough to pass [his characteristics] along to [Chris]. We would like to lean on some of the gifts he has. He is a big, physical talent. He has a charismatic character, and he has been clutch. He was clutch down the stretch and he has shown great resolve and toughness.”

Pittman To Return Kickoffs Again For Bucs
Running back Michael Pittman has apparently worked his way back into the starting lineup for Tampa Bay.

Pittman was given the opportunity to return kickoffs for the Bucs during Sunday’s game vs. the New Orleans Saints, and fared quite well, averaging 28.3 yards per return on three attempts. Pittman’s 37-yard kickoff return was the longest of the season for the Bucs.

With Torrie Cox and Edell Shepherd struggling as return men (averaged just 20 yards per return on the season), the Bucs are ready to stick with Pittman as their primary kickoff returner for Saturday’s playoff game vs. the Redskins.

“I think so,” Gruden said when asked if Pittman would return kickoffs vs. the ‘Skins. “He’s a good football player. We’ve been up and down a little bit at that position this year. Given the fact that Clayton is out, we’re really pushing Edell Shepherd to not only be the third receiver but be the next guy to go if [Joey] Galloway gets tired or something happens, or go in and play for Ike Hilliard. So he’s got a lot on his plate, but yeah, I think there’s a good chance Pittman will be back there.”

Quote Of The Day
Gruden on how the “rebuilding” process on offense has gone:

“I don’t know if we’re ‘rebuilding,’ okay? We’re trying to build an offense. I remember coming in here a few years ago; if that was a finished product, that wasn’t exactly built. That wasn’t ‘The Dream Team,’ let’s put it that way. I’m not being sarcastic or negative, but we’re trying to put some key people in place, hopefully for a period of years, who aren’t just here but they’re here flourishing. If [running back] Carnell Williams can keep doing what he’s doing and some of these young players like [tight end] Alex Smith and [guard Dan] Buenning and [quarterback] Chris Simms and company, [wide receiver] Michael Clayton comes back from a healthy, physical presence a year from now, it would be exciting, man. It would be great. We could maybe be like some of these other teams that get all the airtime on some of these sports shows.”

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