WR Maurice Stovall will start against Buffalo on Sunday in place of the injured Antonio Bryant
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew the Dallas Cowboys for Week One of the 2009 season and now in Week Two, they get the Cowboys' erstwhile leader in receiving and receiving attention.
Superstar wideout Terrell Owens, now a Buffalo Bill, will be one of the key challenges for the Buccaneers on Sunday as they play their first '09 road game in a rather unfamiliar place. Making their first-ever regular-season trip to Buffalo, the Buccaneers will face a T.O. motivated to prove to another excited fan-base that he can be a game-changer.
However, that's just the beginning of the challenge, according to Tampa Bay head Coach Raheem Morris.
"In T.O. you're talking about a well-respected 14-year vet who creates all kinds of problems for you from a defensive standpoint," said Morris. " You've got to always know where he is. You always have to account for what he's going to do and how he can do it. He presents a bunch of problems. But he also has a buddy on the other side named Lee Evans who presents his own bunch of problems. The quarterback's playing well and their offense is clicking on all cylinders. They have this new no-huddle deal. They're a team that's going to present some nice challenges for us."
Indeed, Buffalo gave New England everything they could handle on the Patriots' home turf last Monday night, only losing in the fourth quarter after an unfortunate kickoff return turnover. Quarterback Trent Edwards kept the Patriots on their heels with the no-huddle approach and spread the ball around to a large number of targets. Surprisingly, Owens and Evans combined for only five of Edwards' 15 completions, so the Bills may make a point of getting their stellar wideouts more involved in Week Two.
Whatever approach the Bills take, the Buccaneers will have a much better chance to stop it if they can increase the pressure up front. Tampa Bay sacked Dallas quarterback Tony Romo just once last Sunday, and that was on a first-quarter blitz by CB Ronde Barber. The Bucs need their front four to make more of an impact in order to start piling up the quick stops and turnovers.
"It's always a key of every game," said Morris. "Those guys kind of control the game. If those guys are playing their game, you can give the rest of the guys pink slips and they can go sit down. But we've got to get those guys to play better, to play like champions. They played hard and they played well [against Dallas] but they've got to play better. We've got to have more production. Production speaks volumes in this league."
The Bucs produced on offense against Dallas, though they wish their 450 yards had translated into more than 21 points. The anticipated strength of Tampa Bay's attack, the running game, was very much on display, with the Bucs gaining 174 yards and 5.6 yards per carry on the ground. Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward provided most of that yardage but Earnest Graham and even potentially Clifton "Peanut" Smith could be larger factors this weekend.
"This week, we're going to have our 2-2-1 plan again," said Morris in reference to his series-rotation plan for Williams, Ward and Graham. "We don't know how it's going to play out, but we always go into it with that kind of plan. It could play out differently this week. Earnest could go in and get hot, and I'm sure those two other guys will defer to him. Or it could even be Peanut, for that matter, in special packages. We'll go into the game, see how we are able to dictate the action and then play it out that way. Peanut joked with Derrick Ward that the plane was taking off today at 2:30 so he would miss it and take his carries. They all kind of had a nice joke about it, but it was a lot of fun and we can't wait to see them go out there and play."
The Bucs' plane actually took off closer to two, but wide receiver Antonio Bryant wasn't on it. The team left him behind for more treatment on his sore knee, obviously ruling out the possibility of his playing against Buffalo. Maurice Stovall will get the start in his place but Bryant's contributions will be replaced by a large cast of players.
"We'll have Michael Clayton step it up for him," said Morris. "We'll have some of those other guys get in there as a receiver-by-committee, so to speak, with Sammie Stroughter, Maurice Stovall and Brian Clark. We're going to get to see those guys play. They've been prepared and they're ready to go. We'd prefer to play with A.B., as everybody would, but we'll see A.B. when he can make it back, so we can get him healthy for the rest of the season.
The Bucs will have two new starters on offense, as center Jeff Faine is also out with a triceps strain. Sean Mahan, who was recently re-signed after spending all of training camp and most of the preseason in Tampa, will get the start. He is by far the most experienced of the Bucs' options among the reserves, with 52 career starts including 16 at center for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007.
The Buccaneers announced their eight inactives 90 minutes prior to kickoff. They are: Faine, Bryant, OL Marc Dile, T Demar Dotson, TE John Gilmore, DT Dre Moore, DE Kyle Moore and designated third quarterback Josh Freeman. Faine, Bryant, Gilmore and Kyle Moore are out due to injuries.
Buffalo's eight inactive players are WR Steve Johnson, WR Justin Jenkins, DB Ellis Lankster, CB Drayton Florence, LB Paul Posluszny, T Kirk Chambers, DE Chris Ellis and designated QB Gibran Hamdan. Posluszny will be replaced at middle linebacker by second-year linebacker Marcus Buggs.
The Buccaneers and Bills will kick off their seasons at 4:05 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will post a review of the first-half action at halftime and a detailed game story after the final gun. Fans can also get in-game updates with the Bucs' official Twitter feed, tbbuccaneers.