FB Mike Alstott and the Buccaneers enjoyed beautiful, cool weather during Wednesday's practice
If, as some would suggest, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' on-field effectiveness is somehow inversely related to the temperature, then the team's efficiency should have slipped a notch or two during practice on Wednesday.
If Head Coach Tony Dungy is capable of getting irritated, it's very difficult to detect. Nevertheless, it's clear that he would like to dismiss of the questions about his team's effectiveness in cold weather games, a topic that pops up whenever the Bucs make a late-season trip to a clime such as Chicago.
So after (reluctantly) addressing that topic during the noon media period, Dungy took his team onto the field at 2:00 p.m. and found a beautiful, cool, cloudless day awaiting. It was, of course, nothing like what the Bucs could experience in Chicago on Sunday, but it was a drop from the Tampa heat that had extended well into the fall.
So did the Bucs' suddenly begin stumbling all over themselves in the chill.
"No, we actually like this," said Dungy. "This type of weather is one of the reasons I think we have generally been effective in the second half of the season. We can still get a lot down out here in November and December."
The only player not working up a sweat on Wednesday was S John Lynch, who is suffering from a pair of quad bruises on his left leg, suffered last Sunday against Green Bay. The Bucs' injury report is only three players deep and all three, including Lynch, are considered probable for Sunday's game in Chicago. In fact, Dungy thinks Lynch will return to practice either Thursday or Friday.
Practice squad Buccaneer Ted White was the perfect choice for the scout team quarterback on Wednesday, as his jersey number nine matched the player that will take the helm for Chicago on Sunday. QB Shane Matthews, once the Bears' third-stringer, will step into the spot vacated by Jim Miller, who tore his Achilles in Buffalo last Sunday. Miller had been filling in for original starter Cade McNown, who is battling back from a shoulder separation. Miller is now on injured reserve and McNown is considered doubtful for the game.
That leaves just Matthews, but the Bucs believe he is a very capable starter. In fact, Tampa Bay admitted some interest in Matthews in the offseason before realizing that the Bears had a right-of-first-refusal option on the free agent.
"We liked Shane a lot and we were interested, but when we found out the status of his contract, it made it such that we knew we couldn't get him," said Dungy. "Had he been available, we would have been interested."
Instead, the Bears re-signed Matthews and now the seventh-year veteran will play against the Buccaneers instead. It is safe to say that the Bucs are impressed with Chicago's depth at quarterback.
"I think that shows the wisdom of what they did," said Dungy. "They obviously liked him and wanted to have him. You need a lot of quarterbacks, so I'm sure they're quite happy right now to have a guy who knows the system and has played and been productive."
The Bucs previously shut down Chicago, 41-0, with McNown at the helm in September. However, at least one part of Tampa Bay's defense might have an easier go of it with Matthews in there.
"It's a little bit better for us, the defensive line," said DE Marcus Jones. "He does have the capability, but he's not known for stepping up in the pocket and running 50 yards down the field. It will be a different type of rush. We'll be able to let loose a little more."
Chicago has gone on to a 2-8 record overall since that early-season meeting with the Buccaneers, while the Bucs are riding a three-game winning streak and are back in the playoff hunt as the stretch drive approaches. Head Coach Tony Dungy insisted on Wednesday that his team was not going to suffer a letdown against the Bears, because they believe Chicago is a very real challenge. The Bears' 27-24 upset of the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago underscores that point very strongly.
Dungy's players echoed his sentiment.
"You just can't take those guys for granted," said LB Jamie Duncan. "You can't take anyone for granted in this league, no matter what their record is, especially when they're playing at home. They proved that against the Colts. It was like 27-0 in the third quarter before the Colts knew what hit them. It's definitely to our advantage that that happened to them and we don't have to be the victim.
"We're confident, not because of (the records) but because of the way we've been playing these last couple of weeks. We're starting to come together as a team, it seems like, these last couple of games. If we just keep playing with a lot of confidence and making plays when we get the opportunity, I think we're going to be fine."