The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won on the East Coast and in the Midwest in 2010. Now it's time to try their luck in the desert.
The Buccaneers will put a four-game road winning streak on the line on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona against the Arizona Cardinals, a run that dates back to the last two trips of 2009. Before '09 came to an end, Tampa Bay found success in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle) and the bayou (New Orleans). Another victory on Sunday would equal the longest road winning streak in franchise history, but more importantly it would keep the confidence of this young team on the rise.
"If you can go out and win games on the road you can win anywhere," said Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris. "We believe that, and our team kind of thrives on this road mentality. Let's go out and try to get another one."
A share of first place in the NFC South is at stake for the Buccaneers, who have defied the experts with a 4-2 start and could match Atlanta at 5-2 with a win on Sunday. Such an outcome would add credence to Morris' confidence-building statement that his team deserves to be considered among the league's best. Morris didn't mean the statement as a boast; consider it more of a mission statement.
"Someone has to be number one; why not us?" said Morris, repeating his thoughts from earlier in the week. "Somebody has to go out every week and compete and be the very best they can be; why not us? We want to instill that belief in our players, and in our fan base and in everybody in our organization. That's what we should be trying to do every single day when we come to work – try to be the best. Right now we have the last amount of losses in the NFC and we can say that. It's a good thing."
The Bucs will try to keep the wins coming with a lineup that has experienced several key changes in recent weeks, most notably on the offensive line. In their win over St. Louis a week ago, the Bucs started Jeremy Zuttah at center and rookie Ted Larsen at left guard in place of the injured Jeff Faine and Keydrick Vincent. Those two will reprise those roles in Arizona, especially with Friday's release of Vincent and promotion of rookie tackle Will Barker.
This week, they will be joined in the front five by third-year man James Lee, who will make his first career start at right tackle. Lee is the latest to get the call because usual starter Jeremy Trueblood has been sidelined by a knee injury. Even with some impressive pass-rushers up front, the switch on the right edge will not force Morris to alter the team's offensive game plan.
"You've got to execute your game plan, and you've got to execute it against certain people," he said. "You've got to do some things against Darnell Dockett. We know he's a great player and so are some of his running mates there up front. We've got to be prepared. But James Lee is equipped, he's ready to go, he's been with us for awhile, we feel comfortable with it and so does he, and we're going to go out there and execute our game plan like we always do."
Tampa Bay's offensive line performed well with 40% reserves last week and they expect to do the same now that it's 60% new. The Bucs have confidence in all of their players, including the 53 men on the active roster and the eight-man practice squad, the latter of which has given up several men to the former in recent weeks.
"It's a great opportunity for young men to step up and play this game," said Morris. "We look forward to rolling with those guys. We always talk about being 61 strong – well, we're bringing people off the practice squad, putting people in starting positions and now they've got to be their very best selves. They've got to go in there and fill in for the starters as if they were the starters. And they are the starters. You never know in this league – you're always one step away from being in there. I'm excited to see these young guys go out there and perform."
Those men will be blocking for a running back corps that has also been in flux in recent weeks. The team is happy to welcome back versatile FB/RB Earnest Graham, who missed most of the last two games with a hamstring injury but will be back in the starting lineup. In addition, the Bucs are eager to get another long look at rookie runner LeGarrette Blount, who had a 70-yard coming-out party last weekend. Cadillac Williams remains the starter and has been big in the passing game the last two weeks, but Blount should continue to give him help moving the ball on the ground.
"You've got to go out there and share the football," said Morris. "You've got to spread it around and use other people so they all can be productive. That's how we want to play it. We hope LeGarrette Blount can go out there and give us the same sort of spark he did last week, because that was awesome. We're also looking good with Earnest. We feel great about him and we think he's going to be able to go out there and be productive for us."
In addition to Faine and Trueblood, the Buccaneers have deactivated RB Kregg Lumpkin, CB Elbert Mack, WR Preston Parker, DT Brian Price, DE Alex Magee and designated third quarterback Rudy Carpenter. Faine, Trueblood, Mack, Parker and Price were on the injury report this week.
The Cardinals will be without one of their starters on defense, as LOLB Clark Haggans has been ruled inactive. He will be replaced in the lineup by second-year man Will Davis. Arizona has also made a switch at running back, not prompted by injury, with second-year player Beanie Wells taking over as the starter for Tim Hightower. Both backs are likely to see significant action.
Arizona's eight inactive players are Haggans, WR Max Komar, CB A.J. Jefferson, S Hamza Abdullah, LB Reggie Walker, C Ben Claxton, DT Gabe Watson and designated third quarterback John Skelton.
The Bucs and Cardinals kick off at 4:15 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will post an update of the first-half action during halftime and a detailed game report after the final whistle. In addition, Gene Deckerhoff and Dave Moore of the Buccaneers Radio Network will provide a wrap-up of the action on video after the game.