WR Joey Galloway already has friends and family, so he asked Santa for something else this holiday season
Want to figure out all the possible playoff permutations in the NFC? Better upgrade your CPU.
With only four weeks remaining in the regular season and eight NFC teams milling around at either 6-6 or 5-7 records, the conference's playoff picture is about as muddled as it has ever been in mid-December. Philadelphia or Atlanta can confidently make postseason plans, but the rest of the field is up for grabs, and it's hard to even pick a favorite. Plug in all the remaining contenders and their possible results over the last month and, dude, you're crashing a Dell.
Tellingly, no one has declared any of those eight teams to be in the driver's seat. The .500 teams, St. Louis and Seattle, are slumping and have difficult schedules ahead. Of the six 5-7 teams, Tampa Bay and Carolina are drawing the most buzz this week, but some combination of results this weekend could turn the spotlight on Dallas or Chicago. Things could change again by Week 16.
The Buccaneers don't even know if they'll have to win all four of their remaining games or if 8-8 might be good enough. The assumption, however, is that they need to win out. Hand-in-hand with that is the feeling that, if the Bucs can streak to 9-7 by season's end, they'll be in.
"It is setting up well," said Tampa Bay cornerback Brian Kelly. "We are in a position where we are control our own destiny. We have two home games and two road games with teams that we match up with and we should take care of business. Right now we are in a good position."
That Kelly can make such a statement without any irony or foolishly misguided optimism is a sign of how unusual this season has been. After an 0-4 start, the Bucs feel as if they have played well over the last two months to win seven of their last eight games. Unfortunately, they actually won five of those games, not seven, a fact that might have buried them in previous years.
Instead, the Bucs have been pushed to the edge of contention but not over it. The 'win-and-you're-in' feeling in the Tampa Bay locker room is not an unreasonable one. Thus, the players are choosing to believe, and to assume their playoff lives are on the line each weekend.
"I feel a sense of urgency around here," said defensive end Greg Spires. "Guys know that this season comes down to each week. I definitely feel a sense of urgency from all of the guys."
Moreover, the prize at the end seems bigger because the team's recent play has given the team confidence that a playoff berth would not be just for show. The Bucs truly believe they can make some serious noise if they're included in the NFC field.
"We have a lot of veterans here," said Kelly. "We have been in the position where we've gotten to a playoff and took care of business. We also know that once you get to the playoffs it is a one game show. So we just want to be in a position to get into there. We have veterans on this team that are getting their bodies conditioned to play good ball late into the season. I think we are in a good position right now."
Of course, the other approach, one favored by many players, is to condense the entire chase down to one game: The next one. For them, there's no point in gazing down the road at what could be in Week 16 or 17 if the proper result is not attained in Week 14. That's the way linebacker Derrick Brooks chooses to look at it.
"That's at the end of the rainbow and we recognize that," said Brooks of the possible playoff berth. "We don't want to make any assumptions or get too far ahead of ourselves. This is a very good football team that we are playing on Sunday. It would be a mistake for us to look past them by any means."
Either way, the message is the same: The Bucs have to take care of their own business first.
On the other hand, the team wouldn't turn its nose up at a little help. That's why wide receiver Joey Galloway has just one thing on his list for Santa.
"The playoffs," said Galloway. "Playoffs would be good."
The playoff race was only one topic being discussed in the locker room this week. Below are some additional thoughts from Tampa Bay players on a variety of subjects.
QB Brian Griese on the team having some trouble winning road games: "We are going to try to correct that. We are all well aware of that and we haven't played well enough on the road to win. That is not the way you want to play in this league. There are things that you have to concentrate on. You have to be able to communicate better. We have to be able to make plays in the third and fourth quarters to really get the team in a position to win and that is what we haven't been able to accomplish on the road."
DE Simeon Rice on the Bucs losing games after long trips: "I don't know. We just got beat. You just go out there and play. Either you win or lose. Everything that attributes to that, I do not know. Those are just excuses to me. We lost."
LB Derrick Brooks on Head Coach Jon Gruden moving the travel date from Friday to Saturday: "Since [Gruden] has been here, we are 0-3 on two day travel. Our record prior to that was pretty good, so he is going back to the single day travel. Hopefully, it works out for us. To me, no matter what day we go out there, we have to execute. That is something we have not been able to do the previous trips on the West Coast. I think we can do something about it this week."
Griese on whether he thinks it is a good idea for them to leave Saturday, as opposed to Friday: "I think so. I think you keep the schedule the same no matter where you are going. I don't care whether we are going to the West Coast, Chicago or wherever. I think you keep the schedule the same."
S Dwight Smith on what he thinks of the Saturday travel day: "I don't know. You'll have to ask me on Monday. It might be good and it might be bad. We don't know because we've never done it."
DE Greg Spires on playing on the West Coast: "I hate the flying, it's a long flight, but I'm sure it's going to be nice and cool out there. It's going to be good football weather. I think it's going to be a good thing to get a victory on the road, out there on the West Coast."
T Derrick Deese on advice for his teammates on the time difference: "I made the opposite trip for a bunch of years. The way that we use to do it was leave late on Friday and when we landed here it was real late early Saturday morning. We only had a one day trip really. Friday night is a really important night, so guys get your rest."
CB Brian Kelly on being a West Coast man and the adjustment that needs to be made: "I would say get rest, just sleep. Get your rest during the week and get out there and play some football. I fly home a lot during the season and I try to get my rest. It is a three-hour difference but I think when you are going back it is an advantage. I think that it is more of a disadvantage to those guys. When we are getting up it might be 10:00 but to us it will feel like one 1:00. That helps us a little bit."
Griese on the difficulty of traveling across the country and winning: "I don't really understand it to be honest with you. It is just another trip. The flight is a little bit longer, but I think it is more mental than anything. My attitude is that I love going to the West Coast. I love playing in San Diego. I am looking forward to the trip. It just gives me a little bit longer to celebrate on the way home."
Deese on the trip doing any damage to the team: "To me it is more of how you set your time, the mindset that you are in and the rest of it just comes."
Rice on his feelings about going back to San Diego, where the Bucs won the Super Bowl: "We are going out there to get a victory. Hopefully, I'll spend a little time with my brother and that is about it."
Smith on being able to turn around tough seasons before: "Regardless of what anyone says about us being on the road or us being back in the hunt, it is one game at a time. Any given Sunday, anything can happen, so we have to try to stay focused. Like our leader says, 'Stay wired in,' and hopefully, once we get to the end of the season, we have a chance to get into the playoffs. But we can't think about things like that right now. We just have to think about the next game."
Spires on the team being more confident: "I guess when the offense puts points on the board; it gives the whole team more confidence. If the offense is rolling, we are all rolling. That's how I feel."
Griese on how much confidence the Atlanta win gives him: "We have confidence. I think any time you are going into a week where you have to win, you have to have confidence. We've been in this situation before. We've had some big wins this year and then the next week we come out flat, so we understand that as well and we understand we can't afford to do that again."
Spires on the team playing particularly hard against Atlanta: "We didn't just start playing hard this last game; we have been playing like this the whole year."
Brooks on LaDainian Tomlinson: "He is a balanced running back. It's going to be our first time playing him. He gets tough yards. When he gets the big one, he is a patient runner. I think he is a lot stronger than what people think he is. The plays we saw this morning, he made a few guys miss, and always falls forward when he gets hit. From those things right there, you can tell a good running back from a great one and so far he has had a great career."
Spires on Drew Brees: "He's been on a roll, man. LaDainian Tomlinson has been opening it up for Drew to get the passes out. The receivers are playing really great, and the tight end. McCardell, I'm sure he's up for this game. It's going to be a good game."
Spires on the Chargers' offense: "They're doing a really great job. The offensive line, they've got a few rookies on that line but they look like they're coming together. They're doing a really good job with Tomlinson. He's a good back; he's opening it up for Drew. They're really clicking. We've got a challenge ahead of us."
Kelly on seeing Keenan McCardell again: "Yeah, Keenan is a good friend of mine. You know it will be fun. I wish he was going out to the sideline playing for us. But you know the situation is the way that it is. It will be fun to match up against him. We had some fun times out on the practice field. So I'm sure we will have some fun on Sunday."
Brooks on facing many former teammates this year: "We respect them. Obviously, we know Keenan [McCardell] is a great competitor and a superb receiver. We respect his skills and he knows what type of defense he is going to play against. It goes beyond all individual matchups, we are facing them as a team."
Kelly on the Bucs playing well against tight ends: "We have played some pretty good tight ends. This system that we play in everybody says is the Tampa-two system, but we do different things than just play Cover Two. We have safeties, linebackers, and guys that are athletic that are able to run with these athletic tight ends."
Griese on Joey Galloway: "Joey is a heck of a talent. He brings a lot of electricity to our offense. You combine him with Michael Clayton, Joe Jurevicius and Michael Pittman and you really have a balanced attack. It gives us an opportunity to create some matchups that we like."
WR Joey Galloway on the difference in the Bucs' offense when he is able to play: "I'm sure there are a lot of factors that go into that. I would say that when I'm on the field that it adds another dimension to the offense."
K Jay Taylor on whether his successful debut in the league has hit him yet: "I don't really feel any different. I was little surprised at the overall exposure of it all. I am glad the game went the way it did. It was nice to see how everything turned out."
Taylor on his approach to being in a playoff chase: "I'll approach it the same. As a kicker, I think that is how you have to approach everything. Every game, that game is in the past now, regardless of whether I would have made my kicks or missed it, I would still have my same mindset and demeanor this week."