DE Simeon Rice has rushed the quarterback well against Carolina, with seven sacks in four games
The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traveled to Charlotte, defensive end Simeon Rice racked up two sacks against the Carolina Panthers. In fact, Rice dropped quarterback Jake Delhomme on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, starting a Buccaneer surge that briefly gave them the lead in a 27-24, last-minute loss.
Rice's two sacks came right on the heels of an unusual videoboard taunting sequence by one of the Panthers' fans. But, while that trash-talking may have added some fuel to the Bucs' fire, Rice needed no extra motivation to get after Delhomme. Rice has been particularly effective in games against Carolina, racking up seven sacks in just four games.
If Rice can duplicate his two-sack effort of a year ago, he will take a step into the NFL history books.
With 98 career sacks, Rice is poised to become just the 22nd player in league annals to reach triple digits in that category. Rice, who stalks greatness with a single-minded fervor and wants his names to end up among the all-time elite, would be tied with Andre Tippett at the bottom of the list and only a half-sack behind Charles Haley and William Fuller.
Others just ahead of Rice include Jim Jeffcoat (102.5), Neil Smith (104.5), Trace Armstrong (106), Pat Swilling (107.5) and Greg Townsend (109.5). At an average of almost 14 sacks per year over the last three full seasons, the 30-year-old Rice is likely to be well into that list before he even begins to slow down.
Rice has spoken this season about his desire to make his mark on league history.
"I'm in the game to be the best ever, to make fire when I can, make smoke when I can, make a lot of noise and make the crowd yell out my name," he said earlier. "Some people look at life and just see the sky. I see the heavens, the stratospheres, the Milky Way. It's a gift. I just look for the juice."
Here is the upper stratosphere that Rice is chasing, the top 10 on the NFL's career sack list (sacks did not become an official NFL statistic until 1982):
- Bruce Smith…200.0 2. Reggie White…198.0 3. Kevin Greene…160.0 4. Chris Doleman…150.5 5. Richard Dent…137.5 6. John Randle…137.5 7. Leslie O'Neal…132.5 8. Lawrence Taylor…132.5 9. Rickey Jackson…128.0 10. Derrick Thomas…126.5
Says Rice: "I don't play for money. I play for history. I'm playing for tradition. I'm playing for the legends who came before me. I'm playing for all my fantasies and my dreams."
Obviously, Rice is just as prolific in an interview setting as he is on the football field. Not every Buccaneer player chooses to imitate Rice's loquacious style, but most are willing to discuss the hot topics of the week during open media sessions. Below is a sampling of what the Buccaneers were discussing in the locker room this week.
FB Jameel Cook on when the rivalry between the Bucs and the Panthers began: "It began when they put us both in the NFC South, that's it. We played a few games. They beat us. We beat them. But I think the rivalry started when they put us in the NFC South. That's the way we have to look at it. It is a divisional game, a very important game. We have to win. That's our goal."
TE Ken Dilger on where the animosity between these two teams comes from: "I think just because over the past couple of years, we have had a lot of close games and a lot of hard fought battles. Two years ago, we were trying to make it to the Super Bowl and we beat them twice. Last year, they went to the Super Bowl and beat us twice. It is always a battle, no matter what the records are and how well you are playing."
T Kenyatta Walker on Julius Peppers and bad blood between the Bucs and Panthers: "Any time you play teams twice a year, as big as it's been and how much has been on the line, it's going to be a little rivalry thing. But if I see him on the streets, I'll shake his hand and say, 'Hey.' It's nothing more than that. We're all intense players and we want our team to win. I'm going into it not trying to make a big hoo-ha or make it bigger than what it is. But we need a win, and I'm going to do whatever I need to do to help this team win."
DE Greg Spires on whether they are ready to get a win after losing two games against the Panthers last year: "Absolutely. Yes, we need to win. We need to beat them and it's going to help us come into next year when we'll have to play them again. Yes, we're going to have to win this game."
Walker on the emotions of the game: "It's a big game because we need a win. We're trying to get a win. And it just happens to be Carolina. It's going to be exciting, a big game, I'm looking forward to it. They're the defending NFC champs, so we have to go up there and do our jobs."
Cook on what is the motivation heading into this game: "It is a divisional game, very important. We are supposed to win them. We hope to win them. We need to win them. That's basically it."
S Dwight Smith on whether the Panthers are currently playing close to the level that they played at last year: "I think guys are feeling each other out now. When you are in this league, backups are just as good as starters and you just have to get your timing down and that is what they are doing right now. They're starting to come around and they looked good on Sunday."
Head Coach Jon Gruden on Carolina's offensive line: "They're coming together. I think Jordan Gross is going to be a real good player in this league. It's like any other line – when you have changes, it's hard. Change is hard. I watched the Colts yesterday. They've done such a great job, they've maintained such continuity. They've got great players, great scheme, great everything. Continuity has a lot to do with all of them being great together. It's one thing to be great or good, but to be great or good together is another story. [The Panthers] play hard, they play together and they still have some real talented players in that huddle, too."
Smith on what they expect from the Panthers offense: "They're playing good football and that's what you expect. Regardless of how they're playing when we come to town, we know they're going to play and give us all they've got. So, that's what we're expecting."
QB Brian Griese on Carolina's defense: "I think they're playing good. They've still got some players there who are tremendous players. They had a rough go of it early in the season with some injuries and stuff, but you see in the past two, three weeks that they've really stepped up their game. They've decided to pressure some teams some more and really taken it to them. They've made some turnovers and given their team a chance to win."
Griese on how this year's Panther defense compares to last year's: "I wasn't as familiar with their defense last year. I didn't play against them, so I couldn't really answer that question, honestly. But what I see on film, I think they're a very solid defense. They've got some tremendous athletes, with [Mike] Minter in the backfield, he's a tremendous player; everybody talks about [Mike] Rucker and Julius Peppers; I've had some experience with Brentson Buckner as well; and I know Mark Fields is a heck of a linebacker; Dan Morgan. They've just got some great players, so we're going to have our work cut out for us."
Cook on Julius Peppers: "Julius is going to do his thing. He is a good player, high motor. We just have to do everything we can, as coaching staffs, and as players. Just do what we do."
Walker on his improved play: "You either get better or worse. That's the bottom line; Bill Muir preaches that all the time. You never stay at the same place. Personally, I'm not looking at it as Julius Peppers, me and him. It's the Buccaneers going to get a win. It just happens to be Carolina. We're going to go in there ready to play."
Griese on assessing his own performance: "I think I can get a lot better. I'm still learning each and every week the intricacies of this offense, and starting to learn when to take shots and chances, how to get in and out of plays, who on the offense to go to in crucial situations. All those different things, as you get more experience playing at the quarterback position, I think they get better and better."
Spires on how he will play between now and the end of the year: "You go with the old saying, 'They always remember what you do in November.' This is a November game and it's a must win for us and usually if you're in a tight race it comes down to the end of the season. So, this is a big game."
Gruden on Peyton Manning and the Colts: "We saw them first-hand last year. I nicknamed him the sheriff a long time ago. He's just so good. He's not good, he's great. And Marvin [Harrison]'s not good, he's great. Tom Moore's not good, he's great, he's the best. They're the best. Edge [Edgerrin James] is great. Those tight ends are really, really good. You could call them great. And Reggie Wayne is turning into great. And [Brandon] Stokley can run like hell and when they throw him the ball, he's great. So they're great. Phenomenal. I love watching them. I tell you, I really do. I can't help but root for them. I'm really a big fan of theirs. Awesome, awesome, awesome."
DT Chidi Ahanotu on looking like he has not missed a beat after being out of the game for part of the year: "At this stage in my career, I know what I need to do to stay in shape and to be ready to go out there and battle. This year, I trained my butt off. That was one of the most frustrating things being in Miami. Sitting on the sidelines and knowing that I was in top shape. I got my step back. I got my quickness back and I wasn't able to use it. That led me to try to get out of there and led me to greener pastures, to at least use the conditioning that I trained so hard for this offseason. I know what to do. I just trained my butt off this offseason. I just stayed ready, even when I was at home those four weeks, I just kept training and I knew something would come up."
LB Derrick Brooks on the recent fight following a Pistons/Pacers game in the NBA: "It's unfortunate to see that happen in any sport. There is no one to blame in particular, you just hate to see that type of conduct in professional sports from fans and players."