Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Back in the Saddle

In his Monday musings, coach Tony Dungy turned his thoughts to the Bucs’ next battle on center stage

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CB Donnie Abraham and the Buccaneers are already eagerly looking ahead to the Redskins game, according to Head Coach Tony Dungy

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't have to wait long for their next nationally-televised test. Their first such challenge, last Sunday's marquee CBS game, went well for the Bucs for about 58 minutes, then turned ugly in the final two. This Sunday, they're at it again, taking on the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Fox's premier contest.

Did the Bucs' 21-17 meltdown against the Jets on Sunday take some of the luster of this highly-anticipated matchup? Hardly. All Sunday's loss did to the 3-1 Buccaneers was add extra urgency to their trip to the nation's capital. Safe to say the Redskins' two losses in four weeks have done the same in Washington headquarters.

The Redskins, however, are coming off their best weekend of the season so far, a dominating 16-6 road win against the previously undefeated New York Giants.

"They played well last night," said Dungy. "We had a good game with them down here in the playoffs. I think everyone's been looking forward to the rematch. Us not winning yesterday has put a lot more urgency on the situation. I think we'll be ready to go and hopefully correct some of the mistakes that we made yesterday."

Dungy even evoked the 'must-win' adjective for the upcoming game shortly after the last one ended in the Jets' startling comeback. Perhaps the game is considered even more important than usual because it's against an intra-conference foe and a possible playoff threat down the stretch. Perhaps Dungy just wants his team to avoid a slump, what with a game at Minnesota looming next on the schedule. Whatever his motivation, even the Bucs' coach admits that the first four or five games are not nearly a good enough indicator for who will be playing in January.

"It's much too early for all that," said Dungy of playoff predictions. "In the last couple of weeks people wrote Washington off for dead because Dallas beats them there, and then they go to New York and win. Meanwhile, Dallas goes back home and can't beat an 0-3 team (San Francisco). That's the state of the NFL until people get into the groove. Anybody that says what will happen in the playoffs in September…that's sports radio talk, I guess."

That's in stark contrast to locker room talk, which likes to focus on the task at hand. For the Buccaneers, that means returning to the efficient and error-free type of ball that got them off to a 3-0 start. Dungy and his troops repeatedly used the word 'uncharacteristic' on Sunday to describe the team's outing against New York, and the stats back up their word choice. The Bucs had only one turnover heading into the Jets game; now they have five. They hadn't lost a game in which they led by 10 or more points since 1998 and they hadn't lost a home game since the 1999 opener.

"Those are normally games we win," said Dungy. "We had the ball and the lead with six minutes to go and we're ahead by two scores. We normally win those games. Yesterday, we didn't. We didn't execute well enough in any phase of the game. We had a lot of penalties that hurt us. It wasn't a lack of confidence. I think we just didn't get the job done."

And so the locker room talk concentrates on how to make sure that doesn't happen again. "We talked a little about it yesterday," said Dungy on Monday. "We didn't play our game and we did not function well. It was the first time in a long time where we really malfunctioned on some things – missed assignments, penalties, dropped balls, overthrown balls. Things like that, in a championship atmosphere, you can't afford. We've just got to get back to doing things right, doing what we do well."

Make no mistake, this Sunday's game, even on the first day of October, has a championship atmosphere about it. Forgetting a recent preseason game, these two teams last met in January, with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line. The Buccaneers used a determined second-half comeback to punch their ticket, while the Redskins went home believing they should have been the team headed to St. Louis.

In the offseason, both the Bucs and the Redskins loaded up on extra talent (Deion Sanders, Keyshawn Johnson, Bruce Smith, Jeff Christy, LaVar Arrington and Randall McDaniel, just to name a few), resulting in two much more complete rosters. If the elemental battle of last January's game was offense versus defense, this year it's size versus speed.

"We've played them a couple of times and they're always tough games," said Dungy. "They're big and physical. They have a big back and they try to go after the big play with their receivers. We're kind of the opposite. We're smaller and quicker and we try to use our quickness in the front seven. We try not to give up the big plays on defense.

"It's going to be a matter of who plays their game the best. It's not going to be easy for us. We certainly can't match up with them in terms of size, bulk and being physical. We're going to give it our best effort."

And hope that effort is sharper than last Sunday's was. Games like the Jets contest seem to linger on the mind until the next one is underway, but Dungy doesn't think that's an issue for his squad.

"Our guys seem to get over things quicker than our coaches do," he said. "I don't think that will be a problem for them. We'll look at the tape and they'll know what went wrong. I kind of liken it to the Detroit situation where we have bad play at the end of the half that killed our momentum. Now, you've got to go out and get that momentum back. This will be a difficult arena to do that in but I think that's the kind of challenge you want."

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The Buccaneers suffered one other loss on Sunday, coincidentally also tied to the Jets. TE Blake Spence, who was claimed by Tampa Bay off waivers from New York late in August, suffered what appears to be a season-ending injury to his right knee on Sunday.

"Blake Spence is probably going to be out for the season," said Dungy on Monday. "On the opening kickoff, he (suffered) ligament damage. We'll take a further look at it but it doesn't look good right now. That was the only real serious thing. We've got a lot of muscle strains – from the soggy turf and guys slipping out there. Hopefully, nothing too serious. We do have a lot of strains."

If Spence is placed on injured reserve, the type of move usually done on Tuesday's, the Buccaneers will have an open roster spot on their 53-man roster. Dungy indicated that the team would look at the available tight ends but that there was no predetermined idea on how the spot would be filled.

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