Bucs Hope To Continue Winning Ways In New England
Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks speaks from experience. And when the eight-time Pro Bowler speaks, the rest of the team listens.
Brooks recently stressed a message to his team, particularly the younger players, that was short and to the point.
“I just wanted to stress to them the importance of rest,” Brooks said. “And obviously the importance of spending a little extra time on your opponent. Because your opponent spends a little extra time on you. And just how proud I was of them really. I really just told them how proud I am of them. Just receiving the message that I am trying to give them as a leader of the football team. And at the same time, get a point across of the seriousness of what the games have been like. Because a lot of their seasons have been over by now – in terms of college seasons. We need for them to turn it on. So, I was just trying to give them that small message. I am just very thankful they were listening.”
Rest will be especially important this week as the Bucs have a short week to prepare to take on the 8-5 New England Patriots on Saturday.
“It screws up your sleep habits,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of the short week. “I don’t like Monday night games, I don’t like Saturday night games. I know television takes priority and I understand that. But you lose preparation time so you have to make it up somewhere, so you’ve got to do it late at night or early in the morning, especially against a team like the two-time defending World Champions.”
To make matters worse, Tampa Bay has been on the road for three straight weeks. However, that hasn’t been such a bad thing as the Bucs have produced a 2-0 record in road games vs. New Orleans and Carolina. The Bucs would love nothing more than to finish their three-game road trip with a win against the Patriots, which would make them 3-0 in December.
“It would be huge, especially, the caliber of teams we have played,” Bucs quarterback Chris Simms said of going 3-0 in the three-game road trip. “The Saints, I know they have gone through a lot this year, but that wasn’t exactly the easiest of places to get up for a game, in Baton Rouge. Last week, of course, that speaks for itself, a huge game in the conference. Then if can go up there to New England and give the two-time defending champs a tough game up there, and come out of there with a win, I think that would say a lot about the character of our team.”
Some worry about Tampa Bay’s ability to match the intensity it came out with in last Sunday’s game vs. division rival Carolina when it travels to Foxborough to take on New England. While they acknowledge that possibility, the Bucs said they aren’t going to have much of a problem getting up for a game against the defending Super Bowl champions.
“We definitely do [have to be aware of a let down],” said Simms. “It’s a natural tendency, for human beings in general. I’m sure Carolina went through something like that last week. They came off the win against Atlanta, who they had lost to the last few times. We can’t afford to do it. It’s the last three games of the year, and [the Patriots] are a team, where if we come out there down, or asleep at all, they are going to put it on us. They have a great offense, [Quarterback] Tom Brady and a ton of weapons. Three out of the last four [Super Bowls], that’s all that needs to be said. If we come out there not ready to go, they’ll put it on us.”
The Bucs are actually looking at Saturday’s game as a measuring stick of sorts. After all, in order to be the best you must beat the best.
“They’re Super Bowl champs,” said left tackle Anthony Davis. “You can throw that record out the window, throw whatever happened to them last week out the window. They’re the champs and it’s going to be a great test for us, probably our biggest test of the year so far.”
One of the other motivating factors for the Buccaneers is the lack of respect that has been thrown their way in recent weeks. Despite being in first place in the NFC South division with three games remaining in the 2005 regular season, Tampa Bay hasn’t exactly been the one of the hotter topics amongst the national media, and that’s something Gruden has used to try and motivate his team.
“You know, it’s come up, but honestly we don’t really need to hear it from him,” Simms said. “We watch all the sports shows and see who everybody’s picking every week. I didn’t watch one sports show last week where anybody picked us. It was undisputed. We’re not stupid. We hear what people are saying out there.”
Although Saturday’s game is nationally televised, the Bucs, who have compiled an impressive 5-2 record on the road this season, don’t expect many pundits to pick them to defeat the Patriots, who have won 24 of their last 26 home games. The Bucs believe they’ll have to come out and prove their critics wrong…again.
“I would think not,” Simms said when asked if he thought people would pick the Bucs to beat the Patriots. “I’m sure they are the favorite. I don’t really look at the spread, or things like that. We are going up there, Tampa, we are a warm weather team, we aren’t supposed to win in the Northeast in December, and, of course, they are the two-time defending Super Bowl champs. So, we have our work cut out for us, and we definitely have to play a good game to get out of there with a (win).”
Gruden Reluctantly Takes Trip Down Memory Lane
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden didn’t particularly enjoy fielding questions Tuesday regarding his last game vs. the New England Patriots.
That visit came in January of 2002 when his former team, the Oakland Raiders, traveled to New England to take on the Patriots in a AFC divisional playoff game. Most remember that contest for two things – the heavy snowfall and the infamous “tuck rule,” which ultimately led to Gruden’s trade from Oakland to Tampa Bay.
Late in the fourth quarter of that playoff contest, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady initially fumbled when sacked from behind by blitzing Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson. Oakland recovered and seemed on its way to advancing to the AFC Championship Game until instant replay reviewed the play and overturned the call based on the controversial “tuck rule.” After further review, it was said that Brady did not have the ball completely “tucked” into his body and that the result of the play was actually an incomplete pass rather than a fumble. New England went on to continue its drive, which tied the game and forced overtime. The Patriots went on to kick a field goal to win that game and eventually won the Super Bowl that year.
Saturday will mark the first time Gruden faces the Patriots since the night of the controversial call that eventually changed the lives of Gruden, director of football operations Mark Arteaga, general manager Bruce Allen, assistant to the head coach Paul Kelly and general counsel Roxanne Kosarzycki, all of whom were part of the Raiders staff on that snowy night in Foxborough and are currently working for the Gruden-led Bucs in Tampa Bay.
“If we’d have won that game, I might have been selling pretzels in the Black Hole,” Gruden said jokingly. “You never know what would have happened.
“I try not to relive that moment. I try to move on. That’s the way it happens sometimes. You win a big game, you have a tendency to take off from there. You lose a big game, sometimes it’s humbling. But that’s football.”
One year later, things worked out for Gruden and the Bucs, who unseated the Patriots as champions by defeating, of all teams, the Oakland Raiders, in Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden hopes Saturday’s game vs. New England has a much better outcome for Tampa Bay than the one he and his former team endured nearly four years ago.
McFarland Still Doubtful For Saturday
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took the practice field Tuesday without defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, who is nursing a hamstring injury he suffered against Carolina last Sunday.
McFarland, who is listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game vs. the New England Patriots, said he hopes to return to action sooner rather than later.
“It’s starting to feel better each day,” said McFarland. “Maybe this week. Maybe next week. The quicker the better.”
Kicker Matt Bryant is listed as probable with a hamstring injury. Although Bryant made 2-of-2 field goals vs. the Panthers last Sunday, the Bucs have elected to keep K Todd France on their active roster until he’s completely recovered from the ailment. France handled kicking duties during Tuesday’s practice.
In other injury-related news, Bucs linebacker Marquis Cooper (chest) is listed as questionable. Kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring). Cornerback Juran Bolden is probable with a mild leg strain.
Cadillac Approaches 1,000-Yard Rushing Mark
Before its game vs. Carolina on Sunday, Tampa Bay had failed to rushed for 100 yards or more in seven straight games vs. the Panthers. However, that dreadful streak was snapped on Sunday when Bucs rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams rushed for 112 yards on 29 carries (3.9 avg.) and two touchdowns en route to his team’s 20-10 win over the Panthers.
Despite missing two games and being hindered through a few others due to a lingering hamstring/foot injury, Williams, who has rushed for 924 yards on 223 carries (4.1 avg.) and five touchdowns, is just 76 yards away from reaching the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season.
“Of course I feel good about it because that was one of my goals coming into the season, but the most important thing is what we do as a team right now,” said Williams. “The guys up front are doing a great job blocking. Chris Simms is doing a very good job of running the ball team. That’s what I’m most impressed by.”
With three games remaining in the regular season, Williams appears to be poised to become the first Bucs running back to rush for over 1,000 yards since Warrick Dunn rushed for 1,133 yards (4.6 avg.) and eight touchdowns back in 2000.
Quote Of The Day
Gruden on why he brought “The Rock” back into play:
“We just wanted to emphasize that The Rock doesn’t have any feelings. You can’t have a weak mind. You just have to keep swinging that sledgehammer at that rock. You don’t know which swing is going to crack that rock, but if you keep hitting it as hard as you can with as many guys as we can, we’ve got a chance to break it open and explode onto the scene. Who knows what will happen?”
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