Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A New Streak?

An injury to Eric Zeier could put Trent Dilfer back in the starting lineup

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Eric Zeier may find his first stint as a Buccaneer starter to be brief

QB Trent Dilfer, whose string of 70 consecutive starts for the Buccaneers was broken last Sunday in Detroit, could start up a new streak this Sunday if Eric Zeier's rib contusion prevents him from playing. Zeier suffered the injury in Sunday night's loss to the Lions, then aggravated it during the team's Wednesday workout. On Thursday, he was downgraded on the injury chart from probable to questionable.

Zeier spoke to the media after Wednesday's practice, in which he did not participate.

"It happened in the first quarter (on Sunday)," said Zeier. "It's very sore. I rested it today and I'm going to come back tomorrow and see if I can go."

Head Coach Tony Dungy also spoke with the assembled media after practice and did not sound optimistic about Zeier's improvement. "I'm not going to rule (Zeier's starting) out. We'll still take a wait-and-see attitude, but unless something miraculous happens I don't expect Eric to start. At this point, it looks like Trent will start and (rookie) Shaun (King) will be the number-two guy."

Before Zeier took over as the new starter last week, Dilfer's string of consecutive starts was the second-longest among active NFL quarterbacks to Green Bay's Brett Favre. Favre is scheduled to break the NFL record for consecutive QB starts this Sunday with his 117th when the Chicago Bears come to Lambeau Field. Dilfer's string began when he entered the 1995 season, his second in the NFL, as the starter. King has yet to play in the regular season as the inactive third quarterback in each of the first seven games. During the pre-season, King completed 22 of 44 passes for 262 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, leading the Bucs to a dramatic last-play victory at Washington.

Zeier was sharp in his first outing under center for the Bucs, completing 29 off 44 passes for 256 yards against the Lions. He was sacked five times, however, and knocked down on several other occasions, leading to this week's aches.

Whoever takes the snaps this Sunday will have as one of his primary goals the avoidance of turnovers. Zeier, who has an excellent career interception ratio from both his NFL and college playing days, was not intercepted in his Tampa Bay starting debut last Sunday. He was sacked from behind and forced to fumble in the third quarter, however, leading to a Detroit touchdown. In addition, FB Mike Alstott fumbled at the Lions' one-yard line, killing the Bucs' most promising scoring drive of the night. Last year in New Orleans, the Bucs were upset 9-3 thanks in large part to three turnovers.

Turnovers, or the hopeful lack of them, may very well be the deciding factor in New Orleans again this year. Since Dungy took over the Bucs in 1996, his team is 17-3 in games in which it has a positive turnover ratio and 10-25 in all other contests.

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