FB Mike Alstott will continue to be the Bucs' workhorse when the team is protecting a lead
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' injury report grows lengthier each day, but that is a bit deceiving. While there are currently nine players on the report, eight of which are suffering from a muscle strain of some kind, all nine are considered probable for Sunday's game. In fact, all but four of them actually practiced on Thursday.
The players missing Thursday's work were T Jerry Wunsch, WR Jacquez Green, CB Ronde Barber and S John Lynch. Lynch is not one of the players on the injury report, but he sat out today's practice with a minor hamstring strain. The other five players on the Bucs' report, all of whom practiced, are RB Aaron Stecker, WR Andre Hastings, G Frank Middleton, CB Floyd Young and S Dexter Jackson.
Head Coach Tony Dungy indicated after Thursday's practice that Friday would be the real determinant for each of these players, but added that he is not terribly concerned about anyone on the list.
In fact, Buccaneers.com headed into the team's off-limits-to-the-media training room after practice and learned even more encouraging news. The Bucs' training staff believes that every player on the team will be practicing on Friday. There is some thought being given to resting Anthony for precautionary reasons, but he practiced on Thursday so there is little concern about his availability on Sunday.
Dungy indicated on Monday that he and the coaching staff would spend some time this week discussing the issue of whether FB Mike Alstott's role at the end of games would remain as large as it has been. On Wednesday, Dungy seemed to be leaning towards making no change in the role, and on Thursday, he confirmed that thinking.
"The more you think about it," said Dungy, "the more you realize that you can't panic over one play. He's our best player in that situation and we're going to stick with him."
Dungy has used Alstott in a late-game, clock-killing role rather routinely for the last four years. During that span, the Buccaneers are 27-3 in games in which they take a lead into the fourth quarter.
The Bucs have entered the fourth quarter of each of their first four games with a somewhat comfortable lead, but they're not necessarily expecting a fifth at Washington this Sunday. The Bucs-Redskins series has taken on a decidedly cardiac slant in recent years.
In each of the last two preseasons, Tampa Bay has defeated Washington with a touchdown on the last play of the game. In last year's playoff contest between the two teams, the Bucs rallied in the late-going to turn a 13-0 deficit into a 14-13 win.
In 1998, as Tampa Bay visited Washington in December during an ultimately-doomed playoff chase, the Buccaneers took a 16-7 lead into the fourth quarter on the Redskins' home turf but ultimately lost 20-16. Until last Sunday against the Jets, that was the last game in which the Bucs had coughed up a final-period lead.
"Every time we've played them in the preseason, it's come down to the last play," said Dungy. "Our regular season (and playoff) games have been back and forth. One team got ahead and other team caught them, then made a play in the fourth quarter to win. Mistakes will probably determine the outcome of this game in the long run. I told the team that we have to eliminate our opportunities to make mistakes."