Drew O'Connor serves as Patriots WR Tony Simmons during practice, helping the Bucs prepare for Sunday's game
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't concerned about first impressions this weekend in Massachusetts. In fact, they'd like to leave no impression at all.
The Bucs will square off with the New England Patriots in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon, but those looking for clues on either team will have little hope of full disclosure. That's because, in just two more weeks, the Bucs and Patriots will meet again for the regular season opener on September 3, again in Foxboro.
Neither team wants to reveal too much of what they are going to do in the regular season, and thus supply their opponent with some valuable game film. Instead, it will be a clash of wills and a test of fundamentals, as each team is likely to stick to the basics. That's the word coming out of the Buc corner, at least.
"We're going to go out and play well," said DT Warren Sapp. "We're not going to come out and deliver our whole package to them, and they're not going to do the same to us. It's going to be a man-on-man game, pretty much. That's what we're expecting. Everybody's going to come out with their base formations, the base things that they do, and see if they can get it done."
That type of approach leads to a little bit of a tightrope act, as teams walk a thin line between winning and winning at an unmanageable cost. Throw in that Sunday's game is on national television, and that the Bucs want to prove last Thursday's game a fluke, and you've got enough incentive to make the shrouded areas of the playbook seem very inviting.
"You definitely don't want to show too much, but at the same time you want to go out there and play well," said LB Derrick Brooks. "We want to let these guys know that we do want to win, and if we do win this game, we want to come back in two weeks and do it again. It's kind of odd that it's set up that way, but you've got to go out and do it."
"It's a chance for us to show the nation what we're all about," added Sapp. "We went down to Miami and played a sloppy game. This is a chance for us to redeem that and get back to where we know we should be."
Finally, lest you think the Bucs are going to ignore this game in favor of future considerations, you have the team's hunger to establish itself away from Raymond James Stadium.
"It's important that you go on the road and win," said S John Lynch. "We're a good home team, that's never going to change. It's important that you get some confidence that you can go on the road against a good football team and be able to a win.
"You want to send a message, let them know that in two weeks they're going to have a tough game on their hands. When you're playing a team in two weeks you want to let them know that this is our defense, this is a team that's going to hit you, so they're not so sure about catching that football and running in there quite so hard. You definitely want to leave some things fresh in their minds."
So you can definitely expect the Buccaneers to approach Sunday's game with intensity, because they want to be the team delivering the message, not receiving it. More so than the Dolphins, who are known for an aggressive defense, the Patriots feature a potentially explosive offense, even in the preseason.
"They got some high-powered people, no doubt about that," said Sapp. "If we go out and are off in any way, shape or form, they'll make us look bad. That's not what we're looking for. We're looking for a fundamentally sound ballgame for us as a defense. We took a step back in Miami, with them running the ball like they did. We want to go out and have a dominating performance that we can come back and build on."
So is it possible to accomplish both goals at once: stress fundamentals and still deliver a message?
"We'll play a pretty basic football game, but that's good for us right now," said Lynch. "We'll be concentrating on our fundamentals – we're still in that training camp mode. I think it will be a well-played football game because it will be so basic."
That would be enough for Head Coach Tony Dungy, whose goals for the game are simple: "Just to get a sense of consistency, to play well in all three phases of the game as we're getting closer to the regular season. I'd like to see us come out and play with intensity and cut down on some of the mistakes we've been making."