Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Face Critical Test

Tampa Bay versus Minnesota has developed into one of the NFL's marquee matchups

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QB Shaun King matched his Viking counterpart, Daunte Culpepper, with a rushing touchdown and a fine overall passing game in the last Bucs-Vikes meeting

Even before the 2000 season began, Minnesota at Tampa Bay in late October appeared to be a crucial game on the schedule. These two teams owned the last two NFC Central division titles, and both were considered prime playoff contenders in 2000.

So what if the Vikings have actually exceeded expectations, maintaining the only undefeated record in the NFL? And so what if the Buccaneers have stumbled in October as part of an annual ritual? This game has lost none of its importance – one could say it has gained significance drastically for the Buccaneers – and neither team has lost respect for the other.

The Vikings and Buccaneers have been waging a very close battle for close to a decade now. In addition to evening its own record at 4-4, Tampa Bay could forge the eighth consecutive series split between these two teams. A very similar scenario played out in 1998, when another 7-0 Vikings team came to Raymond James Stadium to play another 3-4 Buccaneers team, and the result was a 27-24 shootout win for the home team.

The Vikings never lost another game during that regular season and eventually made it to the NFC Championship Game, losing to Atlanta in the closing moments. Tampa Bay went on to a fine second half in 1998, then made its own trip to the NFC Championship Game in 1999, losing to St. Louis in the final minutes.

Already a budding rivalry due to the closeness of the games and the closeness of head coaches Tony Dungy and Dennis Green, this series has taken on an additional edge in that each team is led by an upstart quarterback from the draft class of 1999. Daunte Culpepper of the Vikings is having a memorable first year as a starter, just as Shaun King of the Buccaneers was a hot NFL story down the stretch last season as he came on in his rookie season to lead the Bucs deep into the playoffs.

Those two will get another chance for oneupsmanship this afternoon, when the ball leaves the tee at 1:00 p.m. You can follow all the action on Buccaneers.com using our special GameDay section. After the game, this site will also carry game stories and quickly-updated statistics, photos and live videos.

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