Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

A few things to look for when the Bucs face the Cowboys in Sunday’s crucial contest

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TE Dave Moore will play in his 100th consecutive game for Tampa Bay on Sunday

Dave Moore claims to have never missed a game due to injury, not in the pros, not in college, not even in high school. When pressed, he admits that he might have been hurt during his Pee-Wee days, but there's no solid recollection.

Moore's durability at a position, tight end, that takes a lot of pounding is part of the reason why he is about to play in his 100th consecutive game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Moore is also the only Buccaneer with the chance to claim such a streak, because he has been with the team since the latter part of 1992 and no other current Buc joined up until 1993.

For the record, the Buccaneers' media guide suggests that Moore last missed a game in 1994 due to a sprained ankle. By Moore's take, his ankle wasn't necessarily sprained enough to keep him off the field, but Head Coach Sam Wyche wanted to test out rookie tight end Harold Bishop. Bishop had been selected by the team in the third round that year, one of the many signs in the early '90s that Moore was expendable.

Bishop never did catch a pass for the Buccaneers, and he was traded to Cleveland for a second-round pick over the next offseason. Bishop didn't last long with the Browns, either, but Moore is still going strong. In fact, Moore has started 45 consecutive games, mostly since the team decided he was the man for the job at the beginning of the 1998 season.

Moore's numbers have been consistent if not overwhelming over the past five years, including this three-quarters-finished 2000 campaign. Each year during that span, Moore has caught between 19 and 27 passes, recorded between 217 and 276 receiver yards and scored between three and five touchdowns.

He's in that range in 2000 with 24 catches for 230 yards and three scores, but signs point to increased activity in the Bucs' offense, something observers thought was a sure thing when Les Steckel arrived in February. Steckel's offenses in Tennessee made frequent use of the tight end.

After catching just three passes in the team's first four games, Moore has 21 in the last eight and at least two in each ballgame. He is the team's fourth-leading receiver and, as he hits consecutive game number 100, looks to be as important as ever to the Bucs' offensive hopes.

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With a 100-yard rushing performance against the Cowboys this Sunday, running back Warrick Dunn could be the first Buc to post back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since...Warrick Dunn.

Dunn pulled off the feat in just his second and third games as a pro, putting up 130 yards at Detroit on December 7, 1997 and following with 101 the next week at Minnesota. He and Alstott have combined for nine 100-yard rushing games since (including both in the same game against Minnesota on 11/1/98), but never two weeks in a row.

Dunn had 106 yards against Buffalo on Sunday, and what makes the speculation over two straight so tempting is that this week's opponent, Dallas, has the league's worst rushing defense. The Cowboys are giving up 170.8 rushing yards per game this season and have held only one team below 100 all year (Arizona had 98 yards in game two).

Duce Staley, Charlie Garner, Ron Dayne, Fred Taylor, Jamal Lewis and Robert Smith have all recorded 100-yard rushing games against the Dallas defense this year. Dunn would like to be the lucky seventh. Dallas' rush defense numbers, not to mention a spate of injuries suffered by Cowboy defenders, has the run-happy Buccaneers hopeful of a grind-it-out game.

"We hope so," said Dungy. "We think it's going to be important for us to run it, not only against Dallas but also down the stretch. They're doing some different things coverage-wise than they've done before. They've had some defensive linemen hurt, so hopefully we can take advantage of that. But they know what to expect from us, so we think they'll be ready."

Steckel was fairly open about his plans to use Dunn to the hilt this week, saying he was sure the diminutive back would get at least 20 carries again, as he did against the Bills. Dunn's 5-8, 180-pound stature has always led doubters to feel he couldn't stand up to such a workload, but the Bucs don't share that opinion.

"We never had that theory, and he's run the ball 20-plus times for us a lot in the past," said Dungy. "It's just that we don't go in specifically saying, 'This guy's got to get the ball' or 'That guys got to get the ball.' Right now, he's the running back and he's getting all the carries, and we think he's going to do a good job with that."

(on renewed optimism) No, I think we've always had the optimism and always knew that we had to play well to win, but if we did we'd be there at the end. And I think that's where we are. We've put ourselves in must-win situations, but we know we're sitting in there with a lot of teams that have a chance to be involved in the playoffs. That's a good feeling, as opposed to being out of it on December 1st.

While the Bucs play a game that Dungy has conceded is crucial because it features an NFC opponent, several of their postseason challengers are in line to knock each other off. Minnesota already disposed of Detroit on Thursday in an outcome that certainly helped Tampa Bay, and Washington and the New York Giants are set to square off on Sunday. Next week, when the Bucs head out of the conference but stay in state to play at Miami, Minnesota heads to St. Louis and Detroit bundles up for Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

"Well, you would rather be in the opposite position where everybody's chasing you," said Dungy of the Bucs' middle-of-the-pack status, "but enough of those teams play each other that somebody's going to have to lose. We feel pretty good about our chance that, if we win them all, we'll be in there.

"It's frustrating that we're not further up, but even if you are – then you always think that we've got to win this one for home field. There's never a time that you don't want to win."

The good news: over the last two seasons, Tampa Bay is 7-2 in regular-season games played after November (including one January contest). To maintain that high standard, Dungy believes that his team has to be more consistent with the basics of the game than they have been over much of the season.

"It's fundamental football," said Dungy of the stretch drive. "Teams that don't turn it over, teams that can block and tackle and teams that can function under pressure and not self-destruct in big games – that's who's going to win. All the games get big in December, so you have to be able to execute those fundamentals and play ball when the stakes are a little bit higher."

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