After losing to Philadelphia on the last play of the game a week ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will need to win out and get some help in order to realize their playoff dreams. That begins Sunday in the Louisiana Superdome, and even if the situation looks dire, the visiting Buccaneers will have no problem getting motivated for their Week 15 contest against the New Orleans Saints. That loss to the Eagles took care of that, as Head Coach Greg Schiano could tell on the practice field this week, even without any midweek contact.
"The guys worked very hard," said Schiano upon arriving at the Superdome Sunday morning. "At this time of year, there are rules and you can only be in pads so many times in the last six weeks. So we were not in pads this week – we were last week; we're trying to space it out a little bit – but they worked with great focus and determination. Nobody likes that feeling, coming of that last game. That was a tough, tough, tough thing to stomach. But the beauty of it is, six days later you get to go redeem yourself, and that's what we're here to do."
Schiano was alert to any signs that the last-second disappointment against Philadelphia was lingering with his team after Sunday. He wanted to make sure that his crew was playing only the Saints in Week 15, and not any lingering Eagles demons.
"That may be the biggest part of this job," he said. "As a head coach, you want to make sure you've got the pulse of what the team is feeling like, both physically and emotionally. One thing I said is that this was a very tough loss, but the key is that you can never let one team beat you twice. So you can't let a tough loss against Philly lead into our preparation, other than using it for fuel. Fuel that makes you want to watch one more cut-up, or run one more route after practice. Let it fuel that, but you cannot have a lingering hangover from that loss."
Indeed, the Bucs don't need any additional obstacles as they prepare to face the Saints, who are a formidable opponent despite their own disappointing 5-8 record. New Orleans has struggled significantly on defense in 2012, but they remain one of the league's most explosive offensive teams, ranking third in the NFL with 394.2 yards per game. QB Drew Brees threw four touchdown passes in Tampa in Week Seven, and is at the helm of the league's second-ranked passing attack, despite some turnover troubles in recent weeks.
The Bucs engaged in a shootout with Brees last time around, losing by one score even though Josh Freeman threw for 420 yards. The key this time around will be getting more pressure on the Saints passer, who didn't absorb a single hit in Week Seven but has been dropped seven times in the last three games.
If you give him time, he's going to pick you apart because he's great at resetting his read and finding the open receiver," said Schiano. "One of the things that is a disadvantage for him is his height. So if you can create [blockage] around him, that's where he makes some mistakes sometimes. But that's easier said than done. They do a good job protecting the passer. They do a very good job of changing up their protections. When you do that, it's hard to really like in to your blitz packages and things, because what you think might work won't work versus this protection. So it's going to be a little bit of a chess match there in terms of the calls, how we want to rush them. If four guys can put their hands down and go get him, and whip some guys individually, then you don't need to blitz."
The Bucs ill have a full complement of pass-rushers to go after Brees, as DE Da'Quan Bowers tested his injured hamstring before the game and was cleared to play. The Bucs declared the following seven players inactive instead: CB LeQuan Lewis, RB Michael Smith, LB Najee Goode, G Roger Allen, WR David Douglas, DT Corvey Irvin and DT Matthew Masifilo. Lewis is out due to injury.
The Saints ruled out five players on Friday and subsequently placed two of them – S Malcolm Jenkins and T Charles Brown – on injured reserve. One of the other five players ruled out is starting right tackle Zach Strief. A guard (Chris Henry) and safety (Jerico Nelson) were promoted from the practice squad but the two new starters will be William Robinson at right tackle and Isa Abdul-Quddus at free safety.
In addition to Strief, the Saints deactivated the following players: CB Corey White, RB Chris Ivory, LB Scott Shanle, DT Tyrunn Walker, TE Michael Higgins and DE Turk McBride. Strief, White and Ivory are out due to injury.
The Bucs and Saints will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. The game will be televised by FOX and will be broadcast on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com. Buccaneers.com will post a running blog of all the action on Sunday, and will also provide coverage of the team's postgame press conferences.