The Bucs aren't playing their first playoff game vs. the New York Giants this week, but it's hard for the players to not take a peek at their postseason opponent. Tampa Bay is doing its best to not talk about the Giants as it prepares for the season finale vs. Carolina on Sunday.
It's just easier said than done.
Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia is doing his normal preparation to be ready for the Panthers defense while at One Buc Place, but when he heads home there is plenty of game film on the Gaints defense in his possession. There's nothing wrong with getting in an early film session on the Giants with the possibility that Garcia won't take one snap vs. Carolina on Sunday.
"Our commitment throughout the day preparation-wise is on Carolina, but I'm preparing myself to bring film home and start preparing for the Giants. Start to focus on the defense that I'm going to face in two weeks," Garcia said. "That's not to take anything lightly with this weekend, but it gives me a chance – especially considering the possibilities of me playing this week or not – to start to look ahead to that and focus on them a little bit. In the meantime, having played Carolina this year I have a pretty decent feel on what they like to do defensively and I will prepare throughout the week here at the facility as well as outside the facility. It gives me a chance to take those steps to start preparing for the Giants also."
Garcia is very familiar with the Giants defense as he will face them for the third time in two seasons in two weeks at Raymond James Stadium. He defeated the Giants both times he faced them last season while leading the Philadelphia Eagles to the second round of the playoffs while replacing injured starting quarterback Donovan McNabb. In a 36-22 victory in Week 15, Garcia went 19-of-28 for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Facing the Giants for the second time in the postseason in his career, Garcia led the Eagles to a 23-20 road playoff victory. He went 17-of-31 for 153 yards with one touchdown. Garcia beat the Giants 39-38 in the first round of the playoffs in 2002 while playing with the San Francisco 49ers as he went 27-of-44 for 331 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
"I've played the Giants a number of times throughout my career and I've played against them twice in the postseason. They're going to be a strong, tough team especially physically strong on the defensive side especially with their pass rush," Garcia said. "I think that just with what we are capable of doing, the way we spread the ball around, the way that we have some balance to our offense with the running game, that's going to be important for us to take into that game. They do have explosiveness on offense and have some big play players and capabilities so it's important that our offense finds a way to move the chains and score in the red zone. Those are some things that we are trying to focus on and build on. It seems every single week we are trying to get over the hump and hopefully in that game it's the time where everything starts to come together."
Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, however, isn't looking past Sunday's contest vs. the Carolina Panthers. His focus is squarely on the next opponent for the Bucs which isn't the Giants.
"No, it's business as usual and we have a very important game this Sunday," Trueblood said.
Bucs running back Earnest Graham has tried to keep his focus on Carolina, but agrees that it's hard not to take a look at New York. Graham has been a big reason for the success of the Bucs this season racking up 898 yards (4.0 avg.) this season with 10 rushing touchdowns.
"It's kind of natural with a playoff game coming, so you are going to naturally look on TV and watch those guys and see what they do," Graham said. "They've played some of the teams we've played, so they're on film. It's pretty natural to do that."
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden wasn't interested in talking about the Giants at all, even when he was asked about the NFL's schedule for the playoffs. It's likely that the Bucs and Giants will play on Saturday, Jan. 5 with a primetime start of 8 p.m.
"I'd just as soon not talk about them until we get done with the regular season," Gruden said. "The NFL will decide that. They always do a great job of scheduling games."
BUCS MAKE SOME ROSTER MOVES The Bucs made several roster moves on Wednesday signing wide receivers Brian Clark and Chad Lucas from the practice squad to the active roster. Tampa Bay also placed wide receiver Maurice Stovall on the injured reserve list with a broken arm, ending his 2007 season.
The Bucs also released tight end Keith Heinrich from the active roster and signed him to the practice squad along with signing wide receiver Julius McClellan to the practice squad as well.
PLAYERS LOOKING FOR PERFECTION IN DIVISION Gruden spoke on Monday about how impressive it would be for the Bucs to go undefeated in the division this season, especially after Tampa Bay failed to win a division contest in 2006. Several Bucs players are motivated to accomplish the feat this Sunday when the Carolina Panthers make the trip into Raymond James Stadium.
"Yeah, that would definitely be good," Graham said. "It would be unrealistic for us to say that we're not looking at the playoff game, but we have the Carolina Panthers coming here – a team that has been great in this division for a while. They are rivals of ours. Naturally, we want to go out and definitely win the football game."
The Bucs are one of two teams to come close to perfection in the NFC South since its inception in 2002. In 2005, Tampa Bay went 5-1 in the division with its only loss coming vs. Carolina in a 34-14 defeat. The Panthers are the only other team to go 5-1 in division play, accomplishing the feat in 2003 and 2006.
Trueblood, however, believes there is more to play for this Sunday than just an undefeated record in division play.
"I know it's possible, and that would be a nice accomplishment, but I think more so it's about correcting whatever we need to work on and honing our skills," Trueblood said. "We need to get ourselves heading in the right direction. You don't want the arrow pointing down. You want it pointing up. That's our main goal."
INJURY UPDATE The Bucs had several players that were limited in practice on Wednesday including fullback B.J. Askew (ankle), defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (hamstring), wide receivers Joey Galloway (team decision) and Ike Hilliard (knee), running backs Earnest Graham (ankle) and Michael Pittman (ankle) and linebacker Ryan Nece (groin). Cornerback Brian Kelly did not participate in practice due to a knee injury.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Gruden on if he snuck off to the office on Christmas Day.
"Oh, yeah. Sure did. After the kids opened up all that stuff and made that mess in the house, I was out of there."
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