Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By Any Means Necessary

The running game may rightfully be today’s focus, but recent Bucs-Bears games have proven that anything can happen on the way to the end zone

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A 43-yard TD run by Warrick Dunn in 1998 was one of the more conventional ways of scoring in what has recently turned into a bizarre series between the Bucs and Bears

Four Tampa Bay Buccaneers victories in 2001, 446 rushing yards. Four losses, 257 rushing yards.

Need we say more?

Well, perhaps.

We could offer up ample evidence that success in the running game is crucial to NFL victory, especially in Tampa. Exhibit A: The Bucs are 40-12 under Head Coach Tony Dungy when they rush for 100 yards or more in a game, 9-27 when they don't. Exhibit B: The league's two leading rushing teams, Pittsburgh and San Francisco, are a combined 12-4. Exhibit C: Teams that had a 100-yard rusher last weekend went 9-2, with the two losses coming in games in which both teams had 100-yard rushers.

And we could also polarize the issue for the Buccaneers this weekend: Tampa Bay's running attack has struggled to a 27th-place ranking in the league through the first half, while Chicago's rushing defense has climbed all the way to 19th last season to third so far this year.

The Bears' vast improvement against the ground game can probably be traced to the offseason additions of enormous defensive tackles Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, two difficult-to-move players who keep blockers off play-making linebacker Brian Urlacher.

"They've got those two big tackles and Urlacher running around," said Bucs running back Warrick Dunn. "They're playing good team defense. That's all people need to do, is play good team defense and put teams in third-and-long. Then, usually, the game goes your way, and that's what they're doing."

It appears the Bucs will have to work hard for every rushing yard today, and that how well they succeed in that endeavor will determine the game's outcome.

And yet, despite all that evidence, it seems too simple to put it all on that one battle. Given the recent history of the Bucs-Bears series, it's probably safer to say that anything can happen.

Over the last three years, during which Tampa Bay has won five of six games against the Bears, the series has seen points scored on a punt return, a safety, an interception return, several quarterback scrambles, a fumble return, a bomb, a deflected punt return, a fake field goal and an acrobatic, one-handed catch by a tight end. It has also seen a game with no touchdowns whatsoever, but that's another matter. And the Bucs lost their only game in that stretch despite out-running Chicago by nearly a 2-1 margin last November (165-83).

The moral of the story? Anything can happen today, and probably will. The Buccaneers, one would expect, will pull out all the stops to beat the Bears, knowing that a home loss to the 6-2 visitors would probably make an NFC Central Division title a pipe dream. A win, on the other hand, could put the Bucs back into the thick of the race.

We'll know soon enough.

As usual, you'll be able to follow all of the action today and throughout the season right here in the Buccaneers.com GameDay section. This afternoon, Buccaneers.com will begin reporting from Raymond James Stadium at 12:00 p.m. ET, one hour before kickoff. Your only source allowed in the Bucs' locker room prior to the game, Buccaneers.com will provide two pre-game reports, complete with Head Coach Tony Dungy's thoughts. Once the Bucs and Bears have kicked off, this same space will carry game updates after each quarter.

Elsewhere in this section, you'll find links to constantly updated statistics, injury information, lineups, game photos, live play-by-play, postgame video conferences and more.

So join us again at noon today in the GameDay section to see what new ways the Bucs and Bears can devise to reach the end zone in this crucial division battle.

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