Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Staying in the Race

Echoing Brad Johnson’s thoughts, Head Coach Tony Dungy believes the Bucs need to beat Minnesota to stay in serious contention for the division crown

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Head Coach Tony Dungy says this Sunday's game is a role reversal from the Bucs' trip to Minnesota last month, in which the Vikings were desperate for a win

Earlier this week, quarterback Brad Johnson called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' upcoming game against the Minnesota Vikings a 'must-win.'

That begs the obvious question, 'What if they don't?'

The Bucs would surely be in a sizeable hole at 2-4, but would the team's playoff hopes be completely shot after just six games?

Given that Tampa Bay has rebounded from 3-4 records the past two years to make the playoffs, winning one division title and nearly another, you would have to say no. That doesn't mean it's inappropriate for Buccaneer players to approach the game as a must-win.

In fact, Head Coach Tony Dungy agreed with the sentiment, in a way.

"I think it's a must-win if we want to win the division," he said on Wednesday. "We've got one loss, Minnesota has one loss in the division and they've beaten us already. If we lose, we'll be down every tie-breaker to them. It would be difficult for us to come back and win the division. So that's the way we're treating it, definitely like a must-win game."

The game that put the Bucs into this 'must-win' mood, the 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday, has been put into storage and the focus has shifted completely to the Vikings, who beat the Bucs in Minnesota four weeks ago, 20-16. Whatever label you wish to apply, it is a crucial outing for Tampa Bay, one which will be scrutinized heavily before and after. On Wednesday and Thursday, Dungy answered a variety of questions regarding the Vikings' impending visit.

Among those questions were:

Were you surprised to see Minnesota beat Green Bay handily last weekend?

Dungy: "No. They've got a really explosive offense and that's a tough place to play up there. Green Bay hasn't won a lot of games up there, we haven't won a lot of games up there and Detroit hasn't won a lot of games up there. Any time you go, you've got to play great to win. Green Bay didn't play great and Minnesota played real well and handled them pretty easily."

Are the Vikings playing better now than when the Bucs first saw them a month ago?

Dungy: "I think they are. They are playing with more confidence offensively and more aggressively on defense. I think they are playing better."

What must the Bucs do differently to come out with a win this time, after narrowly losing in Minnesota in September?

Dungy: "We probably have to tackle a little better, get the quarterback down, convert more on third down. The big thing in that game was they were nine-for-12 on third down and we were one-for-eight. That was really the difference. They got 18 more plays than we did. They had 36 minutes of possession. We ran the ball well, they ran it fairly well. They threw well, we threw well, but those third downs were the difference. Somehow, we've got to make those plays in our favor."

Doesn't it seem like every time the Bucs are desperate for a big, mid-season win, it's the Vikings that are coming to town?

Dungy: Last time (in September), it was kind of a role reversal. We were going in there and they were down and they needed a big win. Seems like every time they come down here, they're riding high and we're struggling a little bit. We've needed a big win and we've been able to get them the last couple of years. We need to do it again this week."

Will it be important to get the game started on the right foot for the first time in a couple of weeks?

Dungy: "We have to get off to a good start. Up there in Minnesota, we did. We were in the ballgame in the first half. We actually had the lead in the fourth quarter, but that's been one of the few games where we have gotten off to a good start, and I think that's going to be important for us."

After struggling to get Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper down before he could make big plays last time, will the Bucs approach him differently this week?

Dungy: "I don't think they'll be a lot of scheme changes. We had good rush in the game, but we weren't able to get to him. He was able to get out of our grasp and throw some balls under duress. Hopefully we can make him throw those balls under duress again and get our share of them."

Are you satisfied with the intensity and energy you're team is showing in preparation for this game?

Dungy: "I think we're practicing hard and playing hard, but you're going to have to have energy to win these types of big games. We're playing a Central Division game against the defending champs, a game we need and a game they need. It's going be a high-energy level game, no doubt about it."

A lot of last year's playoff teams are struggling at this point in the season. Do you expect to see the cream rise to the top before it is all said and done?

Dungy: "The cream will definitely rise but it may not be those seven teams that everybody thinks will win because they won last year. That's the great thing about a 16-game schedule and that's why you never get worried after three weeks or four weeks. Sixteen games is a lot, and in that time you find out who's good and who isn't. We expect to be good and we think we'll be there at the end of sixteen."

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