Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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A larger audience and an inflated set of stakes awaits the Buccaneers in Minneapolis

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LB Derrick Brooks and the Buccaneers' defense had a spirited battle with the Vikings' offense last year in the Metrodome

Whether an NFL game in early October can truly be a 'must-win' affair is debatable.

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, tonight's game against the Minnesota Vikings definitely has a 'must-win' feel to it.

The stakes are high: Tampa Bay could fall basically three games back in the NFC Central chase with a loss. For a team that jumped off the line to a rousing 3-0 start, scoring 31 points per game, a 3-3 record after six games would be a letdown.

And the audience is huge: Monday Night Football is still relatively new to this team, which just returned to that national stage in 1998 after a 15-year absence. The Buccaneers won their last Monday night game – against Minnesota, as it happens – in December of 1999, but they have never won a Monday night game on the road.

The Bucs know that the rest of the NFL is watching on Monday night, and they are eager to regain their status as one of the Super Bowl favorites. The Vikings may not have been included in that group by preseason observers, but they certainly are now after a 4-0 start.

The Bucs also know a thing or two about putting the first blemish on an undefeated Viking record, having knocked off the 7-0 Vikes in 1998. They also know how difficult it can be to win in the raucous Metrodome; the Vikings have won 16 of their 18 home games since the beginning of the 1998 season, including two contests with the Buccaneers.

A titanic clash of explosive offense against relentless defense; a crucial intra-division showdown in prime time; a playoff preview; a 'must-win'.

Call it what you will, this is simply a big game.

You can follow all of the action in tonight's crucial matchup with the help of Buccaneers.com and the special GameDay section. Go to that area for in-game updates, game photos, injury and lineup information, statistics and more.

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