Warrick Dunn discusses his injured ankle with Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli
(Please see the bottom of this story for an addendum from after Wednesday's practice.)
The Buccaneers surely see more to like in Monday's contest than the Vikings, but both teams have to be pleased with at least one game development. Neither team reported an injury from the field during Tampa Bay's 24-17 win.
Things were not as pleasant before the game for Tampa Bay, as RB Warrick Dunn tested a sprained left ankle but did not get clearance to play. Dunn would not have been able to cut sufficiently on the ankle, which would have severely limited his effectiveness. With the speedy halfback on the sideline, the Bucs put the running game in the bruising hands of his larger counterpart, Mike Alstott.
Though Alstott handled the assignment well, blasting for 95 yards on 23 carries, the Bucs prefer the one-two counterpunch that Dunn's presence with Alstott gives them. Head Coach Tony Dungy indicated on Tuesday that he thinks Dunn will be able to return.
"Warrick actually was close to being able to play," said Dungy. "But we just felt he didn't have his full mobility and we didn't want to take a chance on him being out there and not being able to get away from people. We're thinking he'll be able to play this week, but we'll see how it goes in practice Wednesday. But he's close."
Dunn's presence on Sunday could be a key, as he has had some of his finer career performances against the Lions. In just his second NFL game, on September 7, 1997, Dunn exploded for 130 rushing yards on 24 carries, both of which are still career highs. Later in the year, when Detroit visited Tampa Bay on October 12, Dunn scored on a career-long 59-yard touchdown catch. In this season's earlier Bucs-Lions affair, in Detroit on October 31, Dunn hauled in a career-high 11 receptions for 77 yards as virtually the only part of the Buccaneer offense that was clicking.
Tampa Bay lost that contest 20-3 in the Silverdome, but has won five straight since and now finds itself in a tie for first in the NFC Central with Detroit. The Bucs would like to be at full strength offensively against the Lions now that last weekend's results have placed added significance on Sunday's battle.
"That's what we talked about last night in the locker room," said Dungy. "They're all big games, but when you win one the next one becomes even bigger. Especially in the (NFC) Central Division, it seems week in and week out you're playing a team that seems to be hot and has a chance to be a playoff team. Detroit is playing very well and, obviously, whoever wins this game will be a leg up on the rest of the division. So, definitely, it's a big game for us, maybe even bigger than last week."
Wednesday afternoon addendum: Dunn participated in roughly 80% of Wednesday's practice and Dungy remains hopeful that his starting tailback will be able to return. "He did okay," said Dungy after the Wednesday workout. "He's still not 100%, but he's much better than he was last week. We're hoping he'll be okay by the end of the week."
Buccaneers.com also visited the team's training room, an area off limits to the media, after Wednesday's practice. Dunn was pulled out of practice near the end when he began to limp. His status on the injury report remains probable and will stay that way if he continues to practice tomorrow. If Dunn cannot go on Thursday, he could be downgraded to questionable.