CB Ronde Barber has experienced a lot of closure on issues that used to plague the Buccaneers
Does the West Coast jinx still exist for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Most of its brothers in hex-dom have been extinguished over the last three or four years, most notably the long-held contention that the Bucs couldn't win in cold weather. Tampa Bay toasted that one in Champaign, Illinois, in 2002 then burned it again a few weeks later in Philadelphia…where they weren't supposed to be able to win.
But what about this can't-win-in-Cali thing?
On one hand, the Bucs did beat a California team in a California city just a few seasons ago. You might remember it: Super Bowl XXXVII. The opponent was Oakland, the location was San Diego and the score was 48-21 in the Bucs' favor.
However, if you don't count that game because of the unusual circumstances, then perhaps you could make a case for the curse continuing. Tampa Bay's last win in California was in November of 1996, when they beat the San Diego Chargers, 25-17, thanks to a rousing comeback. Many consider that game the turning point for the Buccaneers, who would start the next season 5-0 and break a 15-year playoff drought. It did not, however, open up a new era of prosperity for the Buccaneers; there was particularly no gold rush to the Bay area, where the Bucs haven't won since 1980.
The last West Coast win for the Buccaneers was actually in 1999, when they went to Seattle and throttled the Seahawks, 16-3. Two weeks later, however, they were 45-0 victims to the Oakland Raiders.
So does the jinx still live? Well, the current Buccaneers would say it never existed in the first place.
That is, there is no pattern of failure that holds any sway from one game to the next, in the Bucs' estimation. The scores are what they are – including a 24-7 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco in 2003 – but they don't mean much to the 2005 Bucs as they set out for California this Saturday.
"We've had opportunities to have closure on a lot of things while I've been here, and we've closed on a lot of them," said CB Ronde Barber, whose first NFL season was 1997. "We don't really consider the West Coast to be any different than playing anywhere else. Unfortunately, we haven't won there, but that's no reason or excuse other than the ones we have for ourselves."
The Bucs have gone to the West Coast three times since their Super Bowl win in San Diego, and made another long jaunt to Arizona, which could be lumped into the same category. None of those flights home were particularly happy, but the feeling hasn't lingered.
"I'm so tired of the negativity I can't tell you," said Gruden, who looks at these "trends" as little more than playthings for the media. "I'm trying to concentrate on having fun, you know what I mean? Competing, playing better and working on our overall performance, and not worrying about what happened in 1980. There have been negative strings tied to this franchise, it seems like, for every opponent we play. Hopefully [the players] are all listening and they understand that the Western time zone is no excuse to play at any level but the best."
Center John Wade says he feels the affects of a West Coast trip more in the following week, after the team's return. Thus, the long flight out isn't an excuse. And the Bucs have shortened their trips out West, choosing to leave on Saturday morning after routinely going out on Friday afternoon. The Friday flights were designed to give the players more time to adjust to the new time zone and shake off jet lag, but it had the undesired side effect of creating too much idle time. Gruden thought players lost their rhythm with all that sitting around. He has trimmed that off the itinerary, but moved up the flight and the meeting schedule to give the players more rest on Saturday night.
"I've done both, and I've lost both," said Wade of the Friday-Saturday departure debate. "So, I don't know what the best is."
The point is, probably neither. In the end, the itinerary will probably have little to do with the final result on Sunday. Gruden notes that the Kansas City Chiefs had to abruptly change their plans for a game rescheduled for Friday night in Miami last week, and they won the game handily.
"I saw the Chiefs fly down the day of the game," said Gruden. "You have to adjust to the schedule. This is our first West Coast trip. I don't really care. I'm just happy to have a job and be able to go out there and play. Who are we to complain?"
The supposed West Coast jinx wasn't the only topic being discussed by Buccaneer players during preparations for Sunday's game in San Francisco. Here are a few more things we overheard in the locker room this week:
WR Michael Clayton on resting during the bye week: "I was and everyone does. Bye weeks are always good especially this late in the season, Some guys had the bye week early and it really doesn't do any good. We have an excellent record, everybody is getting healthy, we are just trying to take it to the west coast. A lot of people talk about how we haven't played well on the west coast and it's just something we are going to elaborate on this week and have a great practice."
S Jermaine Phillips on if the bye week came at a good time for him, allowing him time to recovery from a thumb injury: "It came at a great time. I get a good four weeks under my belt and we're going to be good going to San Francisco."
QB Tim Rattay on how the bye week helped him learn the Bucs' offense: "It was really good. It really helped me to have a bye week. I was basically in here all week just going over plays with the coaches and stuff. So that was really good for me. It worked out for me at a really good time. I am much more advanced than I probably would be if it was a normal game week. Getting it down, getting the plays down and stuff. Every day I feel a little bit more comfortable with the offense."
QB Chris Simms on if the bye week has helped the team: "I think the bye week was good for us solely for the standpoint that some people who were dinged up get to come back healthy and are ready to go. There's kind of two sides to that story. We were hot and it would have been good to play last week, but it does give you a few extra days of practice. I think we're the kind of team that right now that expects whoever it is, whoever's number is called, has got to step in there and do the job."
Simms on what the last two weeks have been like for him: "Not a whole lot different. Coach [Jon Gruden] is the type of coach who's not going to change his offense; it doesn't matter who's in at quarterback. We've just been preparing the same way. We had a bye week last week so we got a few extra practices in, but other than that it's been the same."
QB Brian Griese on if he needs to help Simms get his level of anxiety down for his first few starts: "No, I don't think so. You throw anybody in there…Joe Montana was nervous his first time out. I was nervous as heck my first four games. That's just part of it, and he'll get through that. The good thing about it is, this is not his first game. He'll be able to go out there and hopefully relax. He's got a strong supporting cast now around him, which he understands."
Simms on how Brian Griese may help him: "He's a guy who I've had a very close bond with since he's been here. I was real happy to see him in the meeting this morning just because I know he's looking at the game plan. If I do have questions, I can lean on him. 'When you had this play last year, what did you expect?' Things like that will definitely help me out."
Griese on if he could narrow his advice to Chris down to one thing, what would it be: "That's easy, you've just got to go have fun. That's why you play the game, that's why we're all here putting the time and the energy in. That's why we try to persevere through the hard times. Go out and have fun. He understands that. He'll go out and have fun."
Griese on how much he will remain involved in the team's week-to-week preparations: "I hope to be really involved. Now, I'm not going to be out there on the front lines of the battlefield with my men, but I can still do some things to help in the battle. I'm going to try to help Chris [Simms] as much as I possibly can. I think there are some things that I can help him with during the week in preparation, I think there are things I can help him with on game day. I've got a great relationship with him and I'll continue to help him because that's my job. This team elected me captain and I intend to fulfill my responsibilities as a captain. There are a lot of things I think I can do from the standpoint of not being on the field but still being a leader. I intend to do that."
Simms on if Tim Rattay has given him any insight on the 49ers defense: "He's definitely given a few tricks of the trade. I think he's been more helpful to the defensive coaches, the defensive staff, how they're doing the scout team and things of that nature. But he's had a few comments that will definitely help on Sunday."
Clayton on the difference between Chris Simms and Brian Griese: "As receivers, we know that Chris does have arm strength and he'll put it in there without hesitation. As receivers, we have to be aware of running clear routes. Sometimes you run a route and you're not expecting to get the ball because you're so deep down the field, but with Chris you have to be alert and be aware that the ball can come to you."
WR Ike Hilliard on if the offense won't be as efficient with Chris Simms: "Brian [Griese] had a lot to do with it; there is no question about that. Chris is very capable. I think we all need to allow Chris to go out and do his job. Unfortunately, we lost Brian. It was a big blow to us, especially when you lose a starting quarterback. Chris is very capable and we just need to go out and make plays for him."
C John Wade on if the offense has to stay extra sharp with a new quarterback starting: "Every week, we try to approach the same. I expect Chris [Simms] to be blitzed until he shows that he can beat the blitz. It's just another opinion. I don't know what they're going to do. I'm going to be prepared for it all and we're just going to try to execute."
Simms on the change at quarterback helping keep the team from losing focus: "I think we've been pretty focused throughout the year. I'm sure there will be some guys who maybe are a little more focused because there's a new guy in there under center. At the same time, we're a team that was 5-11 last year and we can't afford to not have a week of focus. We better hope everybody's ready to go."
Hilliard on the type of quarterback Chris Simms is: "It's so hard for me to judge. I haven't been here with Chris long and I didn't see much of when he got a chance to start last year. Chris has a big arm and I know he can get the ball down the field and maybe we'll try to take advantage of that and try to make some plays in that way. Or maybe we just continue doing what we're doing and that's running the football and setting everything up off the run and go with it that way. Really the coaches do the evaluating and we look forward to see what happens next week."
Simms on if there are some changes to the playbook because he's left-handed: "There are a few changes. It's nothing too drastic, nothing that our offensive line shouldn't be able to handle because coach does call plays in the offseason and the preseason for a lefty. So they've got a good preview of that. A few plays here and there, but like I said nothing too drastic."
RB Carnell "Cadillac" Williams on if he feels it's more important to get back for this game since it's Chris Simms' first start: "I don't feel that way. We've got a great supporting cast – [Michael] Pittman, Mike Alstott. We've got a great supporting cast, a lot of receivers. He's got some threats, so it's not just me wanting to get in there to make things that much better."
RB Earnest Graham on who will start at running back: "That is just talk. People like to talk about things, it makes the games interesting. Around this locker room it's none of that. I wasn't even aware of it until you just said it. 'Caddy' [Carnell Williams] was the starter at the beginning of the season, so I'm sure if 'Caddy's' healthy he's going to be the guy. And if not, Mike [Pittman] is the guy. We're good either way. It's not something we're thinking about. The running back group here, we have a lot of camaraderie. We love each other. We just go out and compete and that's how we've been able to get better as players and people. We don't really concern ourselves with that. Whoever starts the game, it doesn't really matter. Everybody is going to do what they have to do. Mike Pittman is good at what he is good at, 'Caddy' is good at what he is good at and that is what is going to be utilized during the game."
Williams on if he thinks he can go 100%: "Yeah, I think I can go. As a pro athlete in this game, you're never 100%, but I feel like I could go."
Williams on if he is anxious to play: "Real anxious. I feel like I haven't played football forever. It just feels like I haven't played for so long, so I'm very anxious right now."
FB Jameel Cook on the importance of the running game: "We want to run the ball. That's what we are trying to establish. That's what we are going to establish, and that's what we're going to do. When it's time to do it, it's the coach's decision. If we're not doing that, or not doing something else, we'll stick with it."
Graham on older players giving Carnell Williams advice: "Oh definitely, we give him a lot of advice. I'm kind of in between there so I look to Mike Alstott, Jameel Cook, Mike Pittman and I kind of talk to 'Caddy' about some of the stuff I've been through. I just try to give him some pointers as far as helping him in the game. When I'm in the game, when I was playing last week, me and Pittman, he was telling us what he saw as far as running the ball goes. We're all football players, we all have played a lot of football so we understand a lot of things and we all try to help each other be successful."
Williams on how he feels the offense did without him: "I think the guys did well. Pittman, last game, went over 100 yards and had some big runs. I think the offense didn't miss a beat and those guys did well."
Griese on if the team can persevere through significant injuries: "Why wouldn't the team persevere? I don't necessarily think that perseverance deals with personnel. I think it deals with attitude, I think it deals with the character of the team. That's why it's important for me to continue to be around here. I've developed some great relationships with guys on this team. I've developed respect from them, and I respect them as well, and I think I have a lot to bring from that aspect of it. If I can have any impact on the team whatsoever, I'm going to do so. I think our team has a lot of leaders, and not necessarily individuals. I think that's important for going from this stage forward. There are going to be some trying times; we're not going to win the rest of our games. But we can go in each and every week expecting to win and being able to learn from our mistakes. At the end of the day, we'll get what we deserve."
Williams on if he is at the point where he can't do any more damage to his injured foot: "I don't know. Right now, I'm at the point where I feel like I rested it, so it's time for me to get out on the field and give it a go, see how it goes. I might have to play through some pain all year, which won't be a problem."
Williams on if he thinks the carries will be spread around more when he gets back: "Pretty much, that's totally on Coach [Jon] Gruden. I'm cool with 20, 25, 30, whatever. That will be left up to Coach Gruden."
Cook on playing in the Bucs' offense: "Well, to play in this type of offense, whether you are a fullback or a halfback, you have to know everything. You have to be able to run, catch, and block. If you can't do that in this offense, nine times out of 10, you are not going to play. You have to know, so if one of those guys goes down it's not really a letdown as everyone sees. Because everyone knows each other's position."
Griese on how efficient the team had been on third down: "I think we've been pretty successful on third down all year; it wasn't just that game. I think we've mixed our plays well. We've mixed our protections well. In this day and age in the NFL, third down is a totally different game than first and second down, totally different defenses. We've prepared really well for third-down defenses and been able to handle a myriad of different defenses. I think if you can do that, you give yourself a chance for some bigger plays because defenses will take more chances on third down. I don't see it changing with Chris in there."
Wade on the key to success on third-down conversions: "I don't have the concrete answer for you. Sometimes it's the blocking, sometimes it's the back, sometimes it's the throw. It's always a different combination. I wouldn't say it's one thing. Just people making plays when they had to I would say."
Head Coach Jon Gruden on facing more 3-4 fronts this year: "Now teams are not only in a 3-4, they're in a 4-3 the next play. Then they're stemming in a 3-4. You've got Jason Taylor, John Abraham, Julian Peterson, Andre Carter-type characters playing outside linebacker, and you don't want a back blocking those guys very often unless you want your head caved in. They create some confusion and they change your calls, change your system, by moving a guy two feet. It's good stuff, it really is."
Rattay on what is similar from Tampa's offense to San Francisco's: "Plays. The concepts are all similar. Not all, but most are similar. And just worded a little different. Everyone has a certain way to get to a certain play. And obviously here there is a lot of shifts and motions. So there is a lot of similarities. Once I get everyone where they are supposed to be, I will be pretty good."
Phillips on possibly facing a rookie quarterback: "It's always good when you're facing a rookie quarterback because they really don't know what the NFL is all about yet. They're still learning. They go through their hard knocks and we want to be a part of that memory and something that he won't forget."
Rattay on how Alex Smith will fare: "You never know. He's obviously a gifted person and he's athletic, obviously, because he's a number-one pick. But it's just too early to tell in terms of what's going to happen. He's a smart kid and he's going to do whatever he can to get better. He's a good guy and I wish him the best."
DE Greg Spires on feeling like they have to pound the 49ers: "This is the NFL, and those guys, they have pride. I can assure you that they are not going to play the way they did last week. They're going to come out and give us their best game. We're not expecting them to come out and give us the ball game. It's going to be a hard fought ball game. It may come down to the last two minutes, most of the games do."
Gruden on if he likes playing teams that just suffered a big defeat: "I don't like playing anybody if we're not ready. I try not to worry about the other team as much as I do our team, to be honest with you. It's first-hand knowledge. If you're not ready to play in modern-day football, you don't win."
Gruden on the Bucs' last trip to San Francisco, in 2003: "They were better than us. Terrell Owens ran right through us. He ran right through us a couple times for 80-yard runs. They got after us big-time. They didn't rush at all. They didn't blitz much but they got after us, and they deserved to win. It's a credit to them."
Rattay on how strange it will be to go back to San Francisco already: "It will be a little different. I have to make sure I go in the right locker room. Yeah, it's a bit weird; I've been there for awhile. But it's just something you've got to adjust to. You get to see everybody, but I'm excited to be here and be on this team."
Gruden on his impressions of Tim Rattay so far: "He's a quick study, he's a good guy and he fits in real well, I think, with the group of quarterbacks we have. We're pleased with his ability to learn quickly. He's a good decision-maker from what I see. He's got a quick, accurate arm and we're happy to have him."
Simms on if his teammates have told him not to worry about winning the game himself: "Not too many teammates have said that. Derrick Brooks was telling me three weeks ago, 'You better be ready. You never know when your time will come.' It came and I didn't have to do much last week when we played the Dolphins. I just kind of completed a few passes and the running game and offensive line took over from there. Again, I don't want to try to go out there and do anything special. Just play my game and play smart football."