DT Chris Hovan believes the core players from the 2002 Super Bowl championship will serve as leaders in this playoff run
When the season started, linebacker Derrick Brooks had his own name for the rookie back everyone else wanted to call "Cadillac." Brooks called the back "Williams," because that's what it said on the back of his jersey. A fancy nickname with star-player implications? You have to earn that.
Well, Brooks and Carnell Williams and the rest of the Buccaneers are heading into the playoffs, having put an 11-5 season in the books and having won the NFC South for the first time since 2002. Williams was an enormous part of that title run, rushing for 1,178 yards despite missing a good chunk of the middle of the season with a foot injury. Apparently, that's enough to earn a nickname; Brooks is now willing to concede the Cadillac handle.
Acceptance from his veteran teammates is more important to Williams as the Rookie of the Year award he picked up earlier in the week. It's safe to say that Cadillac is thrilled to have impressed Brooks, the most lasting symbol of the Bucs' decade of excellence.
That does not mean Williams is going to be pushing his luck. Brooks is still the unquestioned leader of this team, and the rookie back is more than happy to follow.
"Brooks pretty much stayed in my ear the whole season, not only through the good times but through the bad times, too," said Williams. "So, being the new guy, you've got to respect a person like that."
The Bucs will take an interesting mix of experienced veterans and first-time contributors into the opening of the playoffs on Sunday. Head Coach Jon Gruden has made it clear that there is no specific formula for preparing young players for the postseason; still, it's safe to say that the veterans will do their best to escort the newcomers through the process as smoothly as possible.
"It's good that we do have this type of leadership, this type of experience going into these types of games," said defensive tackle Chris Hovan. "Experience does really help, no matter what kind of experience you're faced with. It is always good to have guys who have won a championship around here and know what it feels like and know how to represent themselves when it's time to play."
Hovan is no rookie. This is his first year in Tampa, but he's been in the playoffs before and won't be overwhelmed by the experience. Starting quarterback Chris Simms is not a rookie either – he's in his third NFL season – but this will be his first postseason game. He knows the veterans around him won't be rattled, and he has seen their calm but focused approach spread through the locker room this week.
"They can kind of show us the way," said Simms. "We have a lot of guys that have playoff experience, so we'll be able to go to them for any advice. I think the most important thing, like I said, let's not make too big of a deal of it. Let's just play football. This is just Week 18 in our minds. We are just going to try and keep going and try to win each game."
Simms appears to have already absorbed Brooks' main message to the young players: Don't do anything different. The same efforts that got the Bucs to 11-5 are good enough to lead to success in the playoffs. Brooks doesn't want his younger teammates pressing in an attempt to do something extraordinary.
"Just go out and play," he said. "Keep doing what we're doing. There's no need to be uptight. No one guy feels that he has to win the game. It's going to be a total, complete team effort. If we just continue to improve [every] day, we'll get what we deserve on Saturday."
Center John Wade, one of the more veteran players on the offensive side of the ball, echoed Brooks' thoughts: "Just go out and play as hard as you can and have fun with it. It's not different, but it's a game. It's still a game. It's a playoff game and you know, it's obviously sudden death, but hey, let's go out and have fun like we've been doing all year."
The Bucs' veteran leadership heading into the playoffs wasn't the only topic being discussed by Buccaneer players during preparations for Saturday's Wild Card matchup with the Redskins. Here are a few more things we overheard in the locker room this week:
LB Derrick Brooks on his best advice for teammates: "Just keep pressing. Keep improving, getting a little bit better. I think when you start looking outside those realms, we start to be something that we're not. That's how we got to the point we are at today, by getting better each and every day and continuing to keep the focus on that because that's what we're used to."
TE Alex Smith on the best advice he's been given heading into the playoffs: "Basically just keep doing what we've been doing. Everybody says you don't want to change anything you've been doing this whole team. That's where I think a lot of guys get in trouble, when they try to overdo it because it's the playoffs. We've just got to do what got us here."
RB Carnell Williams on if veterans have told him to make sure he doesn't take the opportunity for granted: "Right, no doubt. A lot of veterans on this team have been through a lot. There have been some down times here. So they're telling the young players to take advantage of this opportunity. I think as a whole we're doing that. We're just fired up and ready to play."
Smith on the locker room being relaxed: "Right. You don't want to get too tight for these types of games. When you play tight it will affect your play. Guys just want to go out loose. We've been loose all season. We know what we're capable of and that's what we're going to do this week."
TE Dave Moore on how it feels to be back in the playoffs: "It's a great feeling. Unfortunately, I missed the last shot [in Tampa] and it's been awhile since I've been back. I feel comfortable, I feel good and we've got a good team. We've got a team that finds ways to win, and we're certainly going to be tested down the road here."
Smith on who he's gone to of the veterans for guidance: "I have Dave Moore and Anthony Becht in my room, so that's 20 years of experience right there. So, I really don't need to look any further than that. But, you know, those guys have been great all season long and I think it will continue into the playoffs. Like I said before, we really don't want to change anything and just keep doing what we've been doing all season long."
DE Greg Spires on if the Bucs have the same confidence they had in 2002: "Oh, absolutely, I think so. We may not have as many sacks as we had that year, but we've done well in other areas to make up for that."
DE Simeon Rice on if he compares this playoff run to 2002: "For what? It's a whole 'nother team, a whole 'nother situation. I can compare it to last year, you can compare anything, but I'd rather not. I'd rather look at it for what it is, lock into the moment, exist in the moment and see what I can get out of it. This game is definitely going to pull every ounce of grit and moxie out of every individual in this locker room. We've got our work cut out for us."
Brooks on how big a turning point the win over Washington was: "It's too hard to say right now. That's something, me personally, I look back at our whole season as a whole and the offseason and saw what game was critical, what guys were on a roll. Right now, at that point, it ended a funk we were in. Obviously, the younger guys, with Edell [Shepherd] having a big game towards the end, the O-line helped protect him. Those things [are] something to build on. Defensively, it's probably one of our worst days against the run in tackling Clinton Portis. Twice that we've played him, he's hurt us for big runs. So, it's something [we're] going to address defensively in our room that we have to play Clinton Portis better."
WR Joey Galloway on if the first game against Washington was a turning point: "I think it's kind of hard to look back and think about that win because we've had so many along the way. I just remember that Chris Simms stepped up and made a lot of plays. At that time, we considered him to be a young guy. At this point, we expect him to play as well as any veteran that's ever played the game. So, it was a big win for us. But, at the same time, we've had a lot of big wins. And [we're going to] go out and try to get another one."
T Anthony Davis on if the first Washington game was a breakthrough game for Chris Simms: "Yeah, I think so, because they have a great defense. They were bringing the house and he was making the right audibles and the right check downs. He was standing in the pocket and just delivering the ball right on time, and on target as well."
QB Chris Simms on his development during the first game against Washington: "It was probably two steps forward [in my development]. I think, first of all, it gave me some confidence that, in a tight ball game, I, personally, can get it done. I think most importantly it gave our team, and our offense, a lot of confidence. We were down by seven, with 1:35 left, and we came back and won the game. That proved to our offense, and hopefully proved to our defense as well, that even if [the defense] is having a little bit of an off day, we can come through for them."
Smith on if the Redskins game was a turning point for the Bucs: "I look to that game as one of the games where our offense really came together at the end. It was a big comeback for us in the fourth quarter and I think you saw a pattern of that after the game. We had maybe three or four games after that where we were able to come from behind and drive down the field. So I think that was big for our confidence. I think that was big for Chris [Simms] and that's probably what I would point to."
Simms on having to learn by playing in a game: "It's the biggest thing. You can practice all you want, but there are just certain things you aren't going to learn in practice. Like I've told you guys before, it's one thing to throw an interception in practice, but then you throw the interception out there, in front of 70,000 [people], it's a lot more embarrassing. That's the one you'll remember, I promise you, instead of some meaningless one in practice. It's the bumps and bruises that you take out there on the field that make a lasting impression."
Rice on the last game turning into a shootout: "This is the game that matters the most. This is the situation that we're presented. You've got two really good teams about to face each other again. Last time, it was an instant classic. Hopefully we can make this one just as thrilling."
FB Mike Alstott on the last Washington game: "That season's over with and we have a new season now. Everybody's record is 0-0."
DT Chris Hovan on if the Bucs have to prepare for the Redskins coming in with more of an edge after their earlier loss in Tampa: "We have to be prepared for the playoffs. We have to go out there and our backs are against the wall playing a tough Washington team. It was a close one last time."
Smith on if he thinks the Redskins use revenge as a factor: "I'm sure they do. I feel like they think that was a game they should have won. That's how they're supposed to come in here, with a chip on their shoulder. It's a playoff atmosphere and a playoff game. We expect their best shot. I think we feel like there were some things that we could have done better last game, so I think both teams are well-prepared and ready to go."
Simms on if the intensity level has picked up heading into the playoffs: "I think everybody is going to be a little more attentive this week, as far as concentration. Everybody knows what is on the line. I think, for the most part, we are going to approach it just like any other game. We all know it's the playoffs, and I'm sure as it gets closer and closer we will get more and more excited. But we're ready to go."
Simms on if playing an opponent that they've played before helps during a short week: "It definitely helps out. We've had a little taste of what they do on defense. Not everything we are seeing is brand-spanking new. Really though, when it comes down to it, this is a Wednesday for us, and we just didn't have an extra day off. It doesn't change a whole lot for us."
Brooks on if it's important to do the little things right against the Redskins' offense: "Well, sometimes you can do that and they still [succeed]. Classic example: Philadelphia. They played well and then they turned the ball over and Washington got on a roll. So, it's much more than that. I just think just play football. Defensively, we've just got to tackle and not let one man try to tackle Clinton Portis because that's not happened all year long and that's not going to happen Saturday. We've got to do a better job of game tackling."
Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin on Clinton Portis having success against the Bucs: "Yes, yes, he did. There's no doubt about it. It just so happens that's who we're playing this week, number 26. He's not just a good back or a really good back, he's a great back. No doubt about. We've got to really be on it."
Kiffin on if the Redskins' zone rushing scheme is hard to prepare for: "It's just hard to prepare for the Washington Redskins for a couple reasons: A guy by the name of Joe Gibbs is the head coach; a guy named Joe Bugel who has three Super Bowl rings coaches the offensive line; a guy named Don Breaux is the offensive coordinator and he's got three Super Bowl rings. They're running the same offense, which last year they struggled with because they had a whole new offense, a new quarterback, a new running back and a new head coach. The second year in a system you're naturally going to get better and that's what's happened. That football team, not only are they well-coached but now they're in their second year in the system. And Brunell and Portis and the whole bit, the offensive line – they've got a complete offensive football team, there's no doubt about it. And most importantly, the coaches know what they're doing. They've run this offense for years."
LB Ryan Nece on the Redskins' offense: "The challenge is that they are simple. You know what they're going to do. You know they're going to run up in there. Their formations are simple but they know how to block everything, and that's because they're simple. They don't try to get complicated. They might give you different formations, but they're keeping the same personnel and that same personnel knows how to block most every front. If you're not disciplined with your resets and your details, then you're going to be off."
Spires on the Redskins' offensive line: "[Jon] Jansen and [Chris] Samuels are probably one of the best pairs of tackles in the game. The offensive line is pretty good. The one guy [Randy Thomas] went down but they've got the veteran guy [Ray Brown] stepping in so they should be okay. They were really good last week against the Eagles. We've got our work cut out for us. They work good together and you can just tell they do a lot of practice on running the ball."
Nece on if the Redskins utilize Moss the way the Panthers use Steve Smith: "Very similar. He's that type of weapon. Any time he gets the ball in his hands he has the ability to go the distance."
Spires on Mark Brunell: "Brunell, he has a lot of experience. He's been there. A lot of people will say he's probably lost a step, but I don't think he has. The guy can still step up in the pocket and buy time to find receivers down the field. He looks pretty good."
Kiffin on limiting long runs all season: "It was a great effort by everybody. Our secondary really tackled well this year. Our longest run [allowed] from the line of scrimmage was 31 yards; it just so happens it was Clinton Portis. Last year, we had four runs over 31 yards. We really did a good job, and that's a credit to the corners, the safeties, the linebackers, the whole team. It's a whole team. Also, the fact that we were number-two in average per rush at 3.5 is really important. Really, the most important thing in rushing is average per rush."
Hovan on being the top-ranked defense: "It's a great statistic, but the one we want is the one at the end, the win. Wins lead to great things for your team individually. We're going to have to play tough, we're going to have to play Buc ball like we have every week. Even now more so, to be honest with you."
Spires on going into the playoffs with the No. 1 defense: "I mean it feels good having the No. 1 defense. That's something you strive for. I mean that's one of our goals, but the main goal is to win the Super Bowl and hopefully our defense can carry us there."
Spires on how hard it is to maintain a top-rated defense for nine straight years: "It's a lot about the scouting and the coaches and the people that they bring in. And they believe in the system. The coaches do a good job of just teaching the players and showing them what they want and then expecting good things out of them. That's what we've done. Everybody they've brought in, that we've kept on the 53-man roster, they're here for a reason."
C John Wade on LaVar Arrington and the Redskins defense: "Obviously, he's one of their premier players and has to be accounted for, but he's not the only guy. I think their whole front seven and their secondary's very talented and I think their coordinator does a great job with their schemes. They're a good defense and we really have to execute and focus to do well against them."
Simms on the Bucs' offense: "You have to have the right chemistry to make it work. I think it is a credit to our coaches, for one, the way they prepare us week-by-week. That has been huge. Again, I think the biggest thing is having the guys that want to be good, that want to learn. If you have guys who just want to go out and play on Sunday, it might work some weeks, but it's not going to work most of the time."
Simms on if he is surprised on how fast the offense was able to get on track: "Not really. I think it goes back to the fact that we are extremely close. We are a group that talks football a lot, we hang out a lot. So, it sounds cliché, it sounds stupid, but I'm telling you, those little conversations you have just hanging around, eating dinner somewhere, sometimes go the longest way. Little things like that, and of course, we have been working extremely hard and we have guys that want to be great. I know we are young, but those young guys, as far as 'Cadillac' [Williams], [Michael] Clayton, [Dan] Buenning, Alex Smith, they are guys that really do their work in the weight room, but more importantly, in the classroom. That's where we have probably made the biggest strides."
Davis on if the Bucs have good chemistry with a mix of young players and veterans: "Yeah, just in our group alone, the O-Line, we've got a Kenyatta Walker and a John Wade, and we've got Todd Steussie in there as well. They tell us so much. As an offensive line, we go out to dinner, we have a lot of laughs. This whole team has a good time together, but when it's time to come down to business, we come down."
Wade on how significant it is to have the same five starters start each game: "Well, I think it helps a lot with just being able to know the calls, being the calls kind of second nature. Just knowing what defenses do, not everything, but sometimes or not, what is the word I'm looking of, cohesion maybe. There's my big word for the day. It just makes it more cohesive there when five guys can start the whole season and you see the same looks."
Simms on if he has been surprised at Coach Gruden's willingness to use two-and-three tight end sets in the both the passing and running games: "Not really. We had kind of talked about that a lot early in the year. We had dabbles of it, early in the year, but I think a few of the opponents that we played, when I got in, made us go that route. He doesn't really scale things back. But as far as my job goes, it does make my life easier."
Galloway on how much his success can be attributed to being in the right system: "It's been fun. It's been exciting for me. I've had a chance to go inside and have some success in there. That's something I've not done in my career. So, I'm excited about the system. I'm excited about my role in the system. I like going inside. Sometimes you get easier matchups inside than you do outside. We've been successful at times and that will open up things to the outside."
Smith on what was it about this group of young guys that helped the team so much: "You know, I don't know. I think when the coaches saw the confidence in us, that gave us the confidence to know that we could go out there and play. I don't think Coach would put us out there if he didn't feel like we'd get the job done. So, I think, combined with the great veterans we have on this team, I think bringing that young edge kind of helped us out. I'm just glad we're able to contribute any way possible."
Smith on if anyone came to the rookies at the beginning of the season and said they needed them to step up: "Really, when we came the first day at mini-camp you know they told us what was expected from us, what they saw, how they saw us fit into the offense. So, we knew going in, going into training camp that we needed to learn the offense as quickly as possible. Get established as quickly as possible because they were leaning on us. So, we knew far ahead of the season that the team needed us."
Simms on if RB Carnell Williams is more healthy this time against Washington, as compared to the first meeting: "I think he is more healthy. The first time around, I think he was coming back from his second game from injury. I think there is no doubt in his mind, or in our mind, that he will be ready to go, and he'll be humming."
WR Edell Shepherd on how he feels about this game after having a good game against Washington last time: "Hopefully I can do more damage from the first quarter to the last whistle of the game. I'm just waiting. I'm happy, I know what I need to do and I'm focused."
Moore on anybody possibly making the big play in the playoffs: "Teams are so evenly-matched going in that, for the most part, it comes down to the wire. Then you look back, and you don't know it at the time, but you see how one or two plays really defined the game. It's easy to see when the game's on the line at the end, whether a person makes a play or not, but I'm saying over the course of a game, the changed momentum, a turnover, a big sack in a particular situation is really what playoff football is all about."
Shepherd on what it meant to him to make the big touchdown catch against Washington: "I know I can do it. I've been working hard every single day of practice and all I need is an opportunity to do it. When I get an opportunity to go out there and make a play, it really doesn't do anything for me because I know how hard I've worked and I know I can do it. I only worry about not doing anything bad."
Shepherd on if he knew he was going to catch the touchdown pass when he saw it in the air: "Yes, most definitely. Any time the ball is in the air from Chris [Simms], I'm going to get it. That's how my attitude is, that's how my mentality is. If you don't know you're going to get it when it goes in the air, you probably won't get it."
Alstott on how he feels this year: "I feel good. I feel healthy. I feel like the old player, and the best thing about it is, as a team we feel like we're back, too. Being involved, having a great year, going 11-5 and being in the playoff hunt…everything's coming together well."
Williams on how fortunate he is to be in the playoffs in his first NFL season: "Oh, man, I feel great. I know a couple of people in the league who I'm good friends with and they've been playing four or five years and haven't even gotten to the playoffs yet. This is my first year and I have an opportunity to make the playoffs so I'm going to seize the moment. I'm looking forward to it."
Smith on if it's exciting to be in the playoffs in his first year: "Yeah, it's crazy. It's one of those things you always dream about, being in a playoff atmosphere. There are 20 teams that are at home right now and we'll be on a national stage. You kind of live for these moments."
Williams on his last playoff game: "High school. It was Oxford. Actually, we lost. First round, 5A. It was just one of those things where we just didn't get things done. But, the previous year, [we won] the state championship. So, hopefully, we can do a repeat."
Williams on how he has stayed humble through his success: "I think it's my upbringing, my mom and some of my family. Growing up, I was fortunate to see nice things in life. I learned from my mom to always treat people the way you want to be treated. I think it's just what she instilled in me, my attitude, that no matter what you do you always can be brought down. I think I owe that to her."
Williams on if coming in here with a humble attitude endeared him to the other guys: "Yes. I think so because some times when guys come with a big name or big money. A lot of young guys are very cocky but I'm a very humble person, respectful person. Coming in, I eventually see myself as a leader but I know first I have to follow some guys before I can lead."
Spires on starting the playoffs at home: "There's no other place I'd rather play than in Tampa at Raymond James. I'm happy for the fans that get to see us. After a disappointing year last year, they deserve it and we deserve it."
Simms on the NFC playoff picture: "I definitely feel, and I know guys I've talked to on other teams feel the same way. The NFC, for whatever reason, seems to be up for grabs. Seattle has been the most impressive team in our conference. Even my friends I went to Texas with, on the Bears, I know they feel real confident about their chances, and the same here. It's anybody's ball game at this point of the year. Everybody's record is 0-0."