WR Keyshawn Johnson need to jump off the line quickly today in the Metrodome
In recent years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had difficulty getting off to a good start in Minnesota, falling behind early and coming up short in a comeback attempt.
This year, a good beginning in the Metrodome is even more important than ever.
At 1:00 p.m. today, the Bucs will kick off not only their first division game of the season but also a 15-week test of their endurance. Tampa Bay's schedule, like that of all the league's teams, was necessarily altered by the terrible events of September 11, and now there is no remaining break between September 30 and the team's ultimate goal of Super Bowl XXXVI.
The Bucs are rested from 21 straight days off, thanks to the postponement of Week Two and last weekend's bye, and they'll need it for the work ahead. First up: the Minnesota Vikings.
Today's scenario only emphasizes the importance of a quick start. With a win in the Metrodome, which would be the Bucs' first since 1997, Tampa Bay would keep pace with Green Bay and put last year's division winners into an 0-3 hole.
Can the Bucs summon a strong beginning to this season re-opening after such a long period of inactivity?
"We haven't had that many games, so I guess that's been a plus throughout all of it," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "Now's the time, and we know we're going to play 15 weeks in a row. We're going to see if we can focus and zero in on football for that amount of time. That's not easy to do. Championship teams can do it and we'll find out if we are one."
The Vikings' potent offense has been the unit jumping out quickly the last three times Tampa Bay has visited the Metrodome, with Pro Bowl wide receiver Randy Moss, in particular, turning in big plays early. Surprisingly, Moss has just six receptions for 109 yards and no touchdowns through two games, as the Vikings' offense has uncharacteristically struggled to score points.
Like most observers, Dungy believes the Vikings' troubles in the running game have been the root of Minnesota's troubles, but he is sure the defending division champs can turn it around in a hurry.
"They're just a little bit off," he said. "They're not making the plays in the passing game that they're used to making. They're still moving the ball – I think they're averaging 330 yards per game – and going up and down the field, but they haven't made the big throw, the catch on the run and the 50-yard play that comes from it. They haven't gotten their running game going the way they have in the past, and I'm sure that's something they're going to look at as well. But they still have explosive players that are capable of making big plays. They've still got five or six Pro Bowl players on offense, so they're going to get it moving."
As usual, you'll be able to follow all of the action today and throughout the season right here in the Buccaneers.com GameDay section. This afternoon, Buccaneers.com will begin reporting from the Metrodome at 12:00 p.m. EDT, one hour before kickoff. Your only source allowed in the Bucs' locker room prior to the game, Buccaneers.com will provide two pre-game reports, complete with Head Coach Tony Dungy's thoughts. Once the Bucs and Vikings have kicked off, this same space will carry game updates after each quarter.
Elsewhere in this section, you'll find links to constantly updated statistics, injury information, lineups, game photos, live play-by-play, postgame video conferences and more.
So join us again at noon today in the GameDay section as the Buccaneers get their season started once again in Minnesota.