After finishing the 2006 regular season with a disappointing 4-12 record, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would love nothing more than to start the 2007 regular season off on the right foot with a win on Sunday.
However, Tampa Bay will have to defy the odds by traveling to the West Coast and escaping Seattle with an upset win in that contest.
The Seahawks have posted four straight winning seasons and are 6-1 all-time in the regular season against the Buccaneers. In fact, Tampa Bay met Seattle at Raymond James Stadium in Week 17 of the 2006 regular season. The Seahawks handed the Bucs a 23-7 loss en route to winning the NFC West division with a 9-7 record.
That loss – and their 2006 season – still don’t sit well with the Buccaneers.
“We’re familiar with them, and we’re familiar with the fact that we lost last year to them,” said Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan. “That sits in the back of our mind. Our first game is going to be a tough one, but let’s go get this show on the road and hopefully we can come out of the game with a win.”
But Tampa Bay hasn’t just struggled with Seattle in previous seasons. The Bucs have historically had difficulty winning games on the West Coast. Since 1976, the Buccaneers have posted a 6-26 record in regular season games played in the states of Arizona, California and Washington.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is all too familiar with his team’s struggles to fly across the country and win games. Since his arrival in 2002, Tampa Bay has posted a 0-5 regular season record in games played on the West Coast.
However, the Bucs know they can win on the West Coast. They did, after all, defeat the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII back on January 26, 2003 in San Diego. While he can’t quite put a finger on why the Bucs have historically struggled on the opposite coast, Gruden said his team has no excuse not to be ready to play in Seattle on Sunday.
“You can’t deny that we have not played well on some of these coast-to-coast trips,” Gruden said. “It’s been a long time, maybe since the Super Bowl, that we’ve gone on the West Coast and really been great in our play. We haven’t played good in San Francisco, haven’t played particularly well across country. Arizona was lackluster in my opinion. I’m not going to make any excuses. We have a first-class jet that we fly on, we stay in a five-star hotel and we eat well. We’re going to be well-rested and well-prepared. Seattle’s going to be a very difficult place to play but we’ve got to pick it up.”
Even some of Tampa Bay’s new players are familiar with the Bucs’ West Coast woes. However, the Bucs said they are focused on the task at hand, which is taking on the Seahawks in their regular season opener.
“It’s a different sort of preparation,” Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia said. “It’s a two-day trip compared to a one-day trip, it is a long flight, but it’s really about focus, it’s really about discipline. It’s about being prepared through the week so when Sunday comes you are just reacting. You are not allowing the elements to rattle you or confuse you. There are going to be some difficult elements. It’s going to be loud, they have a very aggressive defense, they are going to try to get after us and it’s important that we strike back. We don’t allow them to strike us and we keep trying to absorb blows. We need to deliver the blows.”
The Bucs are leaving for Seattle on Friday as opposed to Saturday in an effort to overcome jetlag or some of the other psychological challenges that West Coast trips may have dealt the team in previous seasons.
“It’s only a problem if you make it a problem,” said Bucs quarterback Luke McCown. “Coach Gruden is doing a great job of getting us out there a day early. That way we don’t have to feel so weary from a 3,000-mile flight. That’s the only potential problem that I could see, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never made a 3,000-mile trip. I think we’re focused and ready to go. We understand the task at hand. We’re not going to let that distract us.”
How should the players pass the time on their long flight from Tampa to Seattle on Friday? There are lots of ways to approach the 3,000-mile journey across the country, but the players and coaches have been stressing the importance of keeping their focus.
“Bring a walkman, a magazine, a book, just something to keep you calm and relaxed,” said Bucs wide receiver Maurice Stovall. “Don’t bring anything that might keep you from maintaining focus. Focus on what is important, and that’s to win this game.
“I don’t think it’s harder to play a game on the other coast, I just think it’s the time off that you have, It’s the amount of time that you might have to get distracted and maybe think about the game more than you should be. But there’s really no excuse. We just have to be road warriors and handle ourselves accordingly.”
Seattle’s Qwest Field features one of the loudest crowds in the NFL. The loud crowd, along with the talented football teams Seattle has recently fielded, help explain why the Seahawks have posted an impressive 26-6 record at home over the last four seasons.
“It’s going to be a tough environment,” said Hovan. “Seattle is one of the loudest stadiums in the league. It’s going to be a great challenge, but we need to start somewhere. We get to go play a great NFC team. We’re just ready to get last year off our mind and get started this year. We can’t wait to get to Seattle right now.”
Dating back to training camp, the Bucs have used speakers to pump crowd noise into some of their practices to better prepare for the noisy environment the team is bracing for in Seattle. The Bucs players feel like they’re prepared for Seattle’s 12th man on Sunday.
“It’s a very tough crowd and a very loud stadium,” said Stovall. “You can tell watching film when you see a lot of teams jumping offsides and having trouble with the snap count. All you have to do is be a professional, make our shifts and audibles, and we’ll be prepared.”
Complicating matters for Tampa Bay is the fact that the Bucs were just 1-7 on the road in 2006. But the Bucs are embracing the challenge and insist Sunday’s game will serve as a good measuring stick in determining where they are as a football team.
“They are good at home,” Garcia said of the Seahawks. “Every team needs to find a way to win at home and this is not any different. They are a well-coached football team, they have good players, went to the Super Bowl two years ago. So they are probably a team that is considered one of the top in the NFC and it’s just one of those things where yes it is a long trip, but we have to be professionals about it. We have to learn how to manage these types of situations. Go out there and just really take care of business. It’s a business trip and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about seeing people, it’s not about seeing anything else. It’s about getting ready to play a game and going out and giving the best effort that is within ourselves.”
But not all of the stats in this contest bode well for the Seahawks.
Seattle was just 5-3 at home last season. The Seahawks are 10-21 all-time on opening day in the NFL, including 3-10 at home. And the Bucs’ last regular season win on the West Coast came in Seattle back in 1999 when the Bucs defeated the Seahawks, 16-3.
Regardless of who the opponent is or where the game is being played, the Buccaneers are ready to kick off their 2007 regular season.
“Everyone gets up for the regular season opener,” said Stovall. “It doesn’t matter where we play. We could play on the moon – as long as we prepare ourselves the right way in practice, watch film and do the necessary things to win the game we shouldn’t have any excuses for where we play or who we play. We’re just focused on winning.”
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