LB Derrick Brooks said the Bucs have to 'get it done' today to keep their hopes alive
(material from NFL.com, by Andrew Mason)
A dentist could have appreciated the scene in The Dome at America's Center's southeast tunnel, the portal through which the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passed. That's because most of the players were displaying toothy, honest grins following their 24-17 win over the St. Louis Rams.
But a throbbing pain worse than an infected wisdom tooth could loom if the triumph only represents a continuation of the Bucs' win-one, lose-one pattern of the previous five weeks.
While the team's second consecutive victory over the Rams -- and their first on the road since Sept. 9 -- was a soothing salve to the emotional wounds of a 4-5 start, the hurt could return if the momentum stops today against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bucs will seek to break that pattern this afternoon in Cincinnati's new Paul Brown Stadium, and you can follow all of the action today here on Buccaneers.com, using our special GameDay section. Inside, you'll find links for statistical updates, action photos posted as the game progresses, lineups and injury information, team rosters and depth charts, live scoring summaries and more.
Also, beginning at noon ET, one hour before kickoff, Buccaneers.com will begin reporting from Raymond James Stadium with gameday developments. The only source allowed in the Bucs' locker room prior to the game, Buccaneers.com will bring you Head Coach Tony Dungy's thoughts at 12:00 and 12:30 p.m., then turn to game reporting after kickoff. Look for quarter-by-quarter updates as well as a final game story, just minutes after the action.
It's not a Monday Night Football game. It's not a matchup against a team with the league's best record. But the trip to Paul Brown Stadium is just as important as Week 11's journey to St. Louis. And it didn't even take 30 minutes of afterglow following the defeat of the Rams for the Bucs to recognize that a lengthy celebration would be ill-advised.
"I'm calling us out," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "We've got to go to Cincinnati and get it done. If we're going to turn our season around, we've got to do it. The Washington Redskins did it; they went into Denver and won and went into Philly and won. We can do it."
In citing the Redskins, Brooks made an intriguing parallel. By virtue of their triumph over St. Louis, the Bucs moved into a tie with the Redskins in the NFC. Both clubs sit one game out of the No. 6 seed in the conference, currently held by the Atlanta Falcons.
Little more than a month earlier, when the Redskins were 0-5 and the Bucs 2-3, such a shared mark didn't seem possible. Such is life in the NFL, where down becomes up and back to down again, sometimes in as short a space as one month.
"It ain't bad now, is it?" a laughing Warren Sapp said when asked about being deadlocked with the 'Skins in the NFC race. "It gives us a chance. That's all you can ask for in this league, is a chance."
It's a chance that could have been better had the Buccaneers managed to carry momentum from week to week during this season. Every win has been followed by a defeat. While the team's victories have come by an average of nine points per game, the losses have been by just 3.6 ppg., including one- and three-point setbacks in November.
Perhaps none of those defeats was as perplexing and frustrating as the road loss to Green Bay, a game in which the Buccaneers appeared to have firm control following a series of forced turnovers and a six-point lead. Further, the game came just seven days after Tampa Bay's dominant performance at over the Minnesota Vikings, a triumph that was seen as a resounding statement at the time.
"We thought Minnesota was a statement game; we lost the next week," Brooks said.
"We've got to go get it done. If we want to be in it when it ends, we've got to win next week."
Here's where the team's propensity for digging midseason holes in recent years now can serve as an ally. With 3-4 starts in 1999 and 2000 followed by surges to the postseason, no contending NFC team has participated in more back-to-the-wall games than the Buccaneers. And with precious few exceptions, the team has passed almost every such regular-season test.
In addition, experience has been the best teacher of the concept that a win over an elite club loses all meaning if it's followed by a defeat at the hands of an improved, but still sub-.500 team such as the Bengals. It allowed the Bucs to keep their focus in 1999 when, saddled with a 5-4 record, they managed to surge back from a 10-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons, then bound for a 5-11 season.
It also allows them to recall the darker days of 1998, when a win over the Vikings -- which was Minnesota's sole regular-season loss that year -- was followed by an ego-sapping loss to the then-Tennessee Oilers, bound for a modest .500 finish.
The Bucs have been there, done that. It can only help as they take on the Bengals and Detroit Lions before wading into deeper waters for four games against the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Eagles to close the season.
"There's no margin for error," Sapp said. "We realize that, and this game will go for naught if we go to Cincinnati next week and (fritter it away)."