DT Brad Culpepper sat out practice this week but is prepared to go on Sunday
Safe to say their has never before been a Friday like this in Buccaneer history. Not only are the Bucs on the cusp of their first division championship in 18 years, but they are also anticipating the arrival of the year 2000 in just a few hours. With so much on the line, one might expect the Bucs' 53 to lose their focus, but Head Coach Tony Dungy assured Buccaneers.com that that wasn't the case.
We were very focused today," said Dungy upon arriving at the team's hotel in Chicago. "I was very pleased with our effort. I thought we regained the sharpness that we had on Wednesday, and I think we'll be ready to go on Sunday."
Dungy had been very pleased with practice on Wednesday, but felt that Thursday's effort was not quite as sharp. Several Bucs sat out Thursday's workout, and the there were a variety of small mental mistakes, though the energy level was high. On Friday, the team worked out for two hours before getting ready for the flight to Chicago, and the crispness of Wednesday's workout returned. Nearly the entire team participated, although WR Reidel Anthony (quadriceps) and DT Brad Culpepper (foot) were again held out. Despite the fact that Culpepper did not practice once during the week, he is expected to play on Sunday.
After an almost three hour flight to Chicago, the Bucs were ready for another type of 'crispness', but temperatures hovering in the 40s provided very little shock. Though the Bucs' Sunday opponent owns just a 6-9 record, the possibly frigid conditions in Soldier Field and the overall competitiveness of Chicago's previous efforts has kept most pundits from signing off on a Tampa Bay prediction.
This is nothing new for the Buccaneers, who finished two of their four previous playoff seasons with a win over Chicago. In 1997, Tampa Bay had no shot at a division crown but needed a home win over the Bears to guarantee a home playoff game. The Bucs responded with a dominating 31-15 win in Tampa, but clearly had the benefit of homefield advantage. Nevertheless, Dungy sees parallels.
"Well, it's a similar situation, in that we're playing Chicago and we very much want a win," said Dungy. "But I think there is a lot more at stake this year. I'm sure that everyone on this team recognizes that. We are very focused on what we can gain on Sunday."
To acclimate themselves to the Chicago temperatures, the Buccaneers will conduct their usual Saturday practice at Soldier Field tomorrow afternoon. The Bucs would have held their Saturday workout in Tampa as usual but were forced to travel a day early by the National Football League, which wanted all of its visiting teams in town before the change of the new year.
Upon arrival at the team hotel, the Buccaneer players had no scheduled meetings but did have a curfew assigned for shortly after the new year rolled over. On Saturday, the team will have its normal complement of meetings preparing for the season finale.
"We will follow our normal routine and prepare ourselves as we are used to," said Dungy. "I'm not worried about distractions. This team knows what is at stake."