DE Greg Spires is glad that the Bucs didn't have to wait long to get another crack at Michael Vick and the Falcons
There are five players listed as 'probable' on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' injury report this week and, barring any weekend aggravation, all five will be cleared to play on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
The list represents a very important cross-section of the team – the starting quarterback, the starting center, the starting strong safety, a starting receiver and a reserve defensive linemen with 4.5 sacks – so its collective status after the final full-scale practice on Friday was a critical development for the Buccaneers.
"Everybody practiced, which is good," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We needed the practice. I believe everybody is ready to go."
Quarterback Brian Griese suffered a hip strain early in last Sunday's game at Carolina and played much of the game with reduced mobility, though he still finished with a 103.3 passer rating. He barely practiced at all on Wednesday and was just getting his mobility back on Thursday. But he has worked through the soreness as hoped and will make his seventh straight start on Sunday.
He should be taking snaps from center Sean Mahan, who got that job a month ago when starter John Wade suffered a season-ending knee injury against Kansas City. Mahan has been fighting a neck/shoulder stinger but he also should be available, keeping the Bucs from having to do some shifting up front.
"He practiced, so he's probable," said Gruden. "He worked out today so we expect him to play. It appears that all systems are go, unless he wakes up tonight or tomorrow morning and feels differently."
Wide receiver Joey Galloway (ankle) and defensive end Dewayne White (calf) were both hurt very late in last Sunday's game, but should be back in the lineup after a slow start to the week. S Dwight Smith started the week of practice on Wednesday but was subsequently slowed by a knee injury that has bothered him periodically this season. He, too, will play. Four of Smith's 10 career interceptions have come against the Falcons.
For the first time this season, veteran guard Matt O'Dwyer is on the active roster as the team heads into the weekend. He was activated from the reserve/PUP list on Tuesday. However, decisions at other spots on the depth chart could determine whether or not O'Dwyer is active on game day and available to pitch in.
"His game-day status will be decided probably on a weekly basis," said Gruden. "Obviously, depth is one thing and special teams and all those things enter into it sometimes, too."
If he is active, O'Dwyer could eventually be a factor up front over the season's final month. He came to the Buccaneers with 105 career NFL starts under his belt.
"We're hoping he gives us what he's given teams he's been on: some thump, a guy who comes off the football and is a physical offensive lineman with some versatility," said Gruden. "He can run and pull and be a factor."
There was a sixth player on the Bucs' injury report this week, but there was no uncertainty surrounding his status. Safety Jermaine Phillips was ruled out on Wednesday, for the third straight week since aggravating a forearm fracture against the Falcons, and the team is still not certain when he will return.
"He's making progress," said Gruden. "It's a serious injury, which we can't deny. It's not like it's going to heal today or tomorrow. Whether or not he can play through the pain and play with what he needs to play with cast-wise is another thing. And we won't know for another couple days."
But the Bucs do know, with only a little bit of doubt, that they will have everybody else available on Sunday. And that's a comforting thought as the team heads into a do-or-die weekend.
The Bucs will play host to the Falcons on Sunday, the same team they played three weeks ago in Atlanta. Tampa Bay hasn't squared off against the same opponent twice in four weeks since 2002, when it beat Carolina in Weeks 8 and 11 (with one game and a bye in between).
Of course, that's only two years ago, and such scheduling is really not that uncommon in intra-division play. The Bucs played old NFC Central rival Minnesota twice in 20 days in 2000 (a split series) and Detroit twice in four weeks in 1996 (2-0 to the Lions). But it does give your team a chance for some immediate payback when the first game doesn't go your way.
"We lost the first one, and as fast as a rematch can come I'm all for it," said Griese. "We owe them one and they got us pretty good at their house. We're going to prepare like it's going to be a fight. It's going to be 60 minutes of our football, and this team will be ready for them."
The Bucs may have a slightly better feel for what Atlanta likes to do on both sides of the ball after the last meeting, but of course the Falcons got the same education. And there are sure to be strategy changes on both sidelines for that very reason.
"It's a challenge, but at the same time you know what you're preparing for," said Gruden. "You saw them up-close and live. There are some advantages for both teams."
Of course, the Bucs and Falcons don't need any extra fuel for their increasingly intense rivalry. Throw in Atlanta's opportunity to clinch the division and the Bucs' back-against-the-wall playoff status, and this game may be twice as heated as the last one.
"I like it," said defensive end Greg Spires. "We know them; it has not been long since we have last played them. We have been able to watch films and learn from the mistakes in the first game. They are division rivalries. We have to win this game."
Robin Zander grew up in Chicago as a fan of every sports team the Windy City had to offer. But when he and his family settled down in Clearwater 15 years ago, he knew there was only one way to handle the advances of the teams in his new town: Surrender.
Zander, lead singer of the celebrated rock band Cheap Trick, may never give up his Chicago allegiances, but he has embraced the Bay area's teams wholeheartedly. On Friday, he and his wife and kids were at One Buccaneer Place as a special guest of the Buccaneers during and after practice.
"I believe you have to support where you live," said Zander. "We've been here now 15 years, so we're here Bucs fans for life."
Zander met several players, exchanged gifts with rock aficionado Gruden and even got his Bucs jersey riddled with signatures. He says he will wear the jersey proudly as he continues to bring his family to as many games as possible. The Zanders heartily support all of the Bay area's professional teams, following a family tradition.
"I love it," said Zander of being an enthusiastic sports fan. "I'm from Chicago and that's a big sports town, too, and we did the same thing there. When we were kids we went everywhere. We watched all the football, baseball, hockey and basketball that we could."
Zander and Cheap Trick played at halftime of the 2003 American Bowl in Tokyo, which pitted the Bucs against the New York Jets.