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“In case you didn’t have a chance to listen to the Buccaneer Blitz show this past Wednesday, I was asked by a caller if I thought this might be Mike Alstott’s last home game as a Buccaneer. I decided to share some inside information with the listening audience about what I had witnessed after the last two home games against the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints that might shed some light on Alstott’s possible plans after the 2005 season concludes. Alstott’s wife, Nicole, was on the field during the last couple of minutes, along with their three little kids. About 30 minutes after the game, Alstott came out of the locker room and escorted his family out to the now empty field at Raymond James Stadium where he proceeded to throw the football around with his son, Griffin. If you remember, that game went into overtime and didn’t end until about 5:00 p.m. The stadium crew turns off the stadium lights about a half hour after the game, so there’s Alstott and his son playing catch in the dusk. They do this for about 15 minutes and then Alstott and his family walk around the field in the dark for a few more minutes before leaving. Then last week, Alstott had his wife and kids there, along with a large entourage of about 20 people, including his parents, who used to go to all the games during his rookie season, but apparently haven’t been to many games in a while. The fact that they were there with such a large group of people was a bit eye-opening. Alstott and his crew did the same thing after the game – they hit the field at RJS – and were lucky that the sun wasn’t down yet because the game ended at approximately 4:07 p.m. ET. But instead of darkness being an obstacle, the Outback Bowl grounds crew began to immediately transform the Bucs’ field to the Outback Bowl field and Alstott and his family had to dodge lawn mowers and field smoothing machines while No. 40 soaked up the field atmosphere at Raymond James Stadium perhaps for the second-to-last time. Bucs fans, I’ve never seen Alstott bring his entire family out on the field after a game before. My journalistic instincts are coming alive off of these clues. Alstott has been very hesitant to talk about post-season plans thus far. His sole focus is on not being distracted and finishing the season strong. However, I suspect that he’ll have quite a large entourage again tomorrow. My feeling is that this will be Alstott’s last home game … unless the Bucs beat the Bears and somehow host the New York Giants or the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. But I think Alstott calls it quits – on his terms (with a lot of prodding from Nicole) – after 10 great years in Tampa Bay and in the NFL.”

“The mood in the locker room was a little different this week, especially on Wednesday when a table and chairs were set up in the locker room and several players were intently focused on playing a game similar to dominoes. It’s little things like this that have brought this team together in such a big way. A couple of the Bucs’ best ‘locker room guys’ Booger McFarland and Juran Bolden squared off with Jon Bradley and Ellis Wyms, while Derrick Brooks and Ike Hilliard got in a quick, two-man match prior to individual unit meeting time. As I was doing some interviews during the open locker room period, I talked with guard Jeb Terry, who said that Chris Hovan had done a great job of bringing the offensive and defensive linemen together throughout the year. Sometimes people from different ethnic backgrounds have different interests. Bluntly put, Hovan is the only white defensive lineman in Tampa Bay while Anthony Davis and Kenyatta Walker are the only black offensive linemen on the active roster. The Bucs have never had any racial issues in their locker room before (I think the Bucs are a very color-blind team), but Hovan apparently is a great ‘crossover’ guy to get guys talking and interacting socially. Chris Simms also has those qualities, but Hovan’s yet another great ‘locker room guy’ addition to the Bucs.”

“One more note about the locker room this week. It’s like the Bucs weren’t even thinking about the Redskins or concerned with them. Before you think that Tampa Bay is overly cocky, let me explain my remarks. I got the sense that the Bucs were solely focused on the Bucs. Their thinking is that it doesn’t really matter what Washington does, that if Tampa Bay plays its game and plays it well, the Bucs will win. That’s the sign of a confident team, and it reminds me of the attitude the Bucs had going into the San Francisco playoff game in 2002, in addition to the Philadelphia playoff game the next week. Take this as a good sign, Bucs fan.”

“One last little nugget – this being of the X’s and O’s variety. I’ve talked about how the Bucs’ linebackers – primarily Derrick Brooks – will have to be on top of their game in defending the Redskins’ underneath passing game that features tight ends Chris Cooley and Robert Royal, in addition, to running backs LaDell Betts and Rock Cartwright, but I think whichever team fares better in the return game will come out on top. I expect both teams’ defenses will be playing much better this time around, and yards will be a little more difficult to come by. That’s why extra yards in the return game will matter. Tampa Bay’s Mark Jones was held in check on November 13, returning just one punt for four yards. Between Torrie Cox and Edell Shepherd, the Bucs averaged only 20 yards per kickoff return, and Cox muffed one kick return attempt. While Tampa Bay held punt returner James Thrash to just three yards on his lone return, and held Santana Moss to no yards on his only punt return attempt, Betts averaged 34 yards per kick return – thanks to a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. That questionable play was reviewed by instant replay and although it appeared as if Betts’ foot was out of bounds as he was running down the sidelines, the play stood. If Tampa Bay can get better production from Michael Pittman, whose 37-yard kick return last week was the team’s longest of the year, and another strong return from Jones, who has been on fire lately and good for a 20-yarder each week, the Bucs’ edge may come from its return game.”

“Much of the talk this week is regarding Washington running back Clinton Portis, and rightfully so. He’s a stud running back that has done damage to Tampa Bay’s No. 1-ranked, especially in Week 10 when he rushed for 144 yards. The talk in the Bucs locker room this week was about having to tackle Portis much better this time around. Having a healthy Derrick Brooks should help the Bucs accomplish that feat. This Tampa Bay team really reminds a lot of the 1997 Bucs, who ironically faced a similar challenge in their home playoff game against the Detroit Lions. Earlier in that season, Barry Sanders had ripped off 215 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries en route to Detroit’s 27-9 win over Tampa Bay. When the Bucs hosted the Lions in the playoffs later that year, the defense talked all week about having to do a much better job of tackling Sanders, and they did. The Bucs held Sanders to 65 yards rushing on 18 carries en route to their 20-10 playoff win over the Lions. Don’t ask me why, but something about this week reminds me of the buildup to the Bucs’ playoff game in ’97. Of course, the Bucs are hoping it produces similar results.”

“Even if they contain Clinton Portis, Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss is another big-play threat the Bucs have to contend with. He’s one of the league’s best playmakers. Tampa Bay’s secondary did a nice job of holding Moss to four catches in Week 10, even without free safety Dexter Jackson, who missed that game with a hamstring injury. Bucs SS Jermaine Phillips is questionable heading into Saturday’s playoff game. He’ll be a game-time decision, and the Bucs really need him to play since he’ll spend a lot of the game playing over the top of Moss’ side of the field. If Phillips, doesn’t play, second-year S Will Allen will start in his place and will likely be tested by Redskins QB Mark Brunell and Moss early.”

“Speaking of Brunell, Tampa Bay really needs to rattle him. He’s banged up, nursing a knee injury, which will limit his mobility even more than his age (35) has. Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice sacked Brunell and forced him to fumble twice in Week 10, and they’ll need that type of performance from him in this game. Brunell has been very careful with the football, throwing just 10 interceptions in the regular season. However, the pressure the Bucs put on Brunell forced the Redskins quarterback to throw two of those interceptions in Week 10. The team that wins the turnover battle will likely win this contest.”

“Cadillac Williams is much healthier going into this game than he was in Week 10. While I expect Jon Gruden to give the Redskins a heavy dose of Williams and the ground game, I’m not so sure he’ll have that much more success than his 10-carry, 20-yard outing vs. the Redskins earlier in the season. That’s a credit to Washington’s run defense, which has played well as of late. Perhaps Williams will, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Gruden asks third-year quarterback Chris Simms to win this game by throwing the ball on Washington’s banged up secondary. Simms threw for 279 yards and tossed three touchdowns back in Week 10. If he can diagnose plays at the line of scrimmage and read blitzes like he did in the last meeting, Simms should be able to move the ball with success via the passing game, especially with a lethal weapon like WR Joey Galloway. Simms has been criticized in the past for not being able to win ‘the big game,’ but he will certainly have a chance to once again prove his critics wrong in this playoff contest.”

“It’s going to be a cold-weather game in Tampa on Saturday. Temperatures will be in the low 50s at kickoffs and will dip into the low 40s by the second half. But there is a way the Bucs fans attending Saturday’s game at Raymond James Stadium can stay warm. The Bucs are handing out the Battle Flags that were used at the Bucs-49ers playoff game back in January of 2003, and Bucs fans can stay warm by standing up, waving them and making some noise when the Redskins offense is on the field. From talking to some of the players this week, they are really hoping the fans get on their feet and make Ray-Jay deafening and one helluva intimidating environment for the Redskins to play in. The 12th man can make a difference, and the players, who feed off crowd noise, will be the first to tell you that. They talked about it this week and are looking forward to playing in a loud and hostile environment at Ray-Jay on Saturday.”

“This has been one of the most perplexing weeks of news coverage that I have seen in a long time. The first round of the playoffs hasn’t even begun yet and all I keep hearing about is how the Washington Redskins are going to come into Raymond James Stadium and knock off the Buccaneers. Let’s get a few things straight before the Redskin bandwagon gets too heavy for the freeloaders.”

“First, the Redskins did not defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. You would think they did they way everyone is talking about them as if they were undefeated. This is a team that had to fight to get in the playoffs. The game was close, no doubt, but a loss is a loss. Show respect to the team that beat you.”

“Second, does anyone in their right minds think that Clinton Portis is going to rush for 144 yards again? The Buccaneer run defense has been stout all season and throw into the mix that Derrick Brooks will be healthy for the contest and I like the chances of shutting the run down. Tampa Bay gives up less than 100 yards on the ground per game this season. They are ranked No. 1 in the league for a reason.”

“Third, there will be a different youngster running the show around the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game and his name is Cadillac Williams. During the first outing, Williams was still suffering from foot and hamstring injuries that limited him for three games. Fresh off of winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year and Rookie of the Month, I think the Cadillac is back on track and ready against a defense that give up close to 110 yards a game on the ground. Couple that with the Redskins inability to stop Mike Alstott near the goal line, an obvious problem they had in the first meeting, and Tampa Bay should be able to get the ground game going.”

“Are the Redskins the hottest team in football? Maybe. They have won five straight games. But think about this, they did what they had to do to get into the playoffs. I commend them for that. But five straight wins only secured them the sixth seed in the playoffs. There are huge holes and weaknesses in this team. Take a look at the game film from the 36-0 shutout that the Giants laid on them. Tampa Bay is equally as hot as the Redskins. Winners of five straight? No, but they did win four of their last five games save losing to the two-time defending Super Bowl champions. Before the entire world jumps on Joe Gibbs back, I think that the team with the better record and home field advantage should get the nod over the sixth seed. But that’s just me.” “Without the use of Cadillac in the first game the Buccaneers wide receiving corps came up huge even without injured Michael Clayton. Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Edell Sheppard all caught touchdowns in quarterback Chris Simms’ coming out party. The same three receivers will be lining up Saturday. I expect the ball to be spread around in the same fashion against the Redskins.”

“All the focus on Clinton Portis has been very interesting to me this week. Portis is having a great year, but in the first meeting against the Buccaneers he was hardly the MVP. The game ball should be handed to Ladell Betts. Betts torched the Buccaneers for two touchdowns in the game with one coming on a 94-yard kickoff return moments after Alstott scored his second touchdown of the game. Don’t think the Redskins won’t try to use Betts as a mismatch against the Buccaneers.”

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