Gerald McCoy grew up a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even from his home in Oklahoma, so he has vivid memories of the intense but respectful rivalry that developed between Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp and Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
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Eventually, McCoy inherited the same position on the same team that Sapp used to build his Hall of Fame career. McCoy has reached great heights in that position, including three trips to the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, Green Bay segued immediately from one MVP-caliber quarterback to another when Aaron Rodgers took over for Favre under center.
Even though the Buccaneers and Packers no longer play in the same division, a McCoy-Rodgers rivalry would have been an enjoyable repeat of history. Unfortunately, McCoy has missed been on injured reserve both times the Bucs and Packers have gotten together since he was drafted. McCoy will have to wait for another opportunity at that hunt.
This weekend, however, McCoy has a shot to cross a different name of his Most Wanted list. It's a short list, but a star-studded one: Rodgers, Tom Brady and brothers Eli and Peyton Manning.
"I missed Brady and Peyton, played against them both once and I missed them both, and I missed Eli," said McCoy. "And I missed both games we played against Aaron Rodgers. Those are my four."
Photos of the Bucs vs. the Giants over the years.
The Bucs and Giants have met just once during McCoy's six years in the league, and it was a wild offensive shootout two weeks into the 2012 season. Manning and Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman combined for five touchdown passes in a 41-34 New York win in the Meadowlands, and there wasn't much pressure on either passer. The Buccaneers didn't sack Manning once as he threw for 510 yards; McCoy did record one quarterback hit and he broke up one pass, but he definitely did not get the skin he wanted for his wall.
McCoy's 31.5 career sacks have come against 20 different teams, and he has a perfect recollection of which QBs he has put on the ground and which he hasn't.
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"I don't have a chart at home but all defensive linemen do [know who they've sacked]," he said. "They asked Sapp how many times he sacked Brett Favre and he gave the answer immediately. All defensive linemen do. I definitely do and Eli Manning is one that I missed out on in 2012. So I'm looking forward to this one."
Actually, the prospect of playing against Manning, who threw six touchdown passes last Sunday in a 52-49 loss at New Orleans, is one he believes will energize all of the Buccaneers' pass-rushers.
"You get excited, you get excited," said McCoy. "I don't know if you get amped up more, like more of a sense of urgency, you've just got to realize that you're not facing your average, everyday NFL quarterback. This is one of the elites. But as a defensive lineman, to have a chance to play against a guy of Eli Manning's status, it's exciting to me; I don't know about everybody else. I love this game and I'm a fan of the game, so I'm going to do my best to try to get there instead of just enjoying playing against him."
Manning has faced the Buccaneers four times and has come away victorious on each occasion, including a 2007 playoff opener that began the Giants run to the Super Bowl championship. In the three regular-season games on that list, Manning has completed 57.6% of his passes, thrown six touchdowns against three interceptions and averaged 275 passing yards per game. Of course, much of that – including half the touchdowns, all the interceptions and 62% of the yardage – came during that aforementioned shootout in 2012.
Other than the interceptions, that's the kind of game the Buccaneers want to avoid on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, but McCoy knows it will be a significant challenge.
"He is good, man," said the Bucs' pass-rusher. "He's got two rings, and arguably the best quarterback in history is his older brother and he's got more than him. Not only does he have the rings, but he was the MVP of those games. He's a road warrior, a tough guy, very smart and he'll light you up if he gets going. So we've got a tough one ahead of us this week."
- The Buccaneers added safety D.J. Swearinger to their**injury report**after he suffered a toe injury in practice on Thursday.
Swearinger was listed as limited, which could mean that he sat out the remainder of the workout after getting hurt. The injury occurred after the portion of practice that was open to media viewing.
The only other change to Tampa Bay's injury report was starting left guard Logan Mankins' progression from "did not practice" on Wednesday to "full participation" on Thursday. This was expected, as Mankins was simply given a scheduled day of rest to start the practice week. Three other Buccaneers continued to sit out practice: wide receiver Vincent Jackson (knee), defensive end Jacquies Smith (ankle) and safety Major Wright (hamstring).
Tackle Demar Dotson is not on the Buccaneers' injury report because he is not yet on the 53-man roster, but he is working on his return from a preseason knee injury that landed him on short-term injured reserve. Dotson began his 21-day practice window two weeks ago and is now eligible to be activated to the roster, should the Bucs choose to do that before Sunday's game. Head Coach Lovie Smith said on Thursday that move was a "possibility" but declined to indicate just yet if it would happen this week.
"Demar is making progress," said Smith. "He hasn't played. It's been a long period of time since he's played. We'll see how it goes. He's back in the mix."
The Giants' injury report had a handful of changes on Thursday. Most notably, rookie defensive end Owa Odighizuwa had his status changed to "out" because he was placed on injured reserve due to a hamstring ailment. New York used the open spot on the 53-man roster to sign to promote TE Jerome Cunningham from the practice squad back to the active roster, where he had spent most of the first two months of the season.
Cornerback Leon McFadden was added to the injury report with a groin injury after he did not participate in practice on Thursday. However, three other Giants who had sat out to start the week returned to action on a limited basis: safety Craig Dahl, wide receiver Reuben Randle and guard Geoff Schwartz. Randle and Schwartz are starters on the Giants offense and Dahl is the team's leading tackler on special teams.