The Bucs are thankful for WR Keyshawn Johnson, who's on pace for an NFL-record 126 receptions
NFL fans will have a lot to be thankful for this Monday night when the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on ABC's NFL Monday Night Football because, if history and tradition have anything to do with it, a competitive, hard-fought game seems guaranteed.
Two years ago, the Rams and Bucs battled in one of the most tense, nail-biting conference championship games in history. St. Louis won 11-6, and then went on to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Last year, the clubs combined for 834 total yards of offense in one of the most wide-open and exciting Monday-night games of the season, won 38-35 by the Buccaneers with the game-winning score coming with 48 seconds left.
"I know the type of intensity this game is going to bring for a variety of reasons," says Rams linebacker London Fletcher. "Monday Night Football is one thing. The teams becoming rivals is another. They felt like we took their Super Bowl ring away in 1999, so they have guys on their team that are still upset about that. Tampa Bay got the best of us down there last year, so that left a bitter taste in our mouths. If you can't get up for this game, you can't get up for any game."
Fletcher's intensity is matched by Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks.
"We're going back to a place where we were maybe one or two plays away from the Super Bowl,'' says Brooks, who knows that the 4-5 Bucs must come away with a victory to maintain their playoff hopes. "It's a big rivalry. With all that's on the line, going to face a team that probably hates us as much as we dislike them, I like our chances. It will force us to come out fighting."
In the spirit of Thanksgiving while looking forward to Monday night, following are some of the many things for which the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are thankful:
|**Mike Martz:** Since Martz took over for Dick Vermeil in 2000, the Rams have an 18-7 (.720) regular-season record and are poised for another strong run at the Super Bowl.||**Tony Dungy:** Since taking the reins in 1996, Dungy has become the winningest coach in team history and has led the Buccaneers to three playoffs appearances.|
|**Record:** At 8-1, the Rams have the league's best record and hold a one-game lead over the 49ers in the NFC West. It is the club's best record through nine games since 1985.||**Home-Field:** After Monday night's game, the Buccaneers will play four of their final six games at home against Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore and Philadelphia.|
|**Kurt Warner:** Leads the NFL with 2,709 passing yards and is on pace for 4,816, which would rank second all time. He reached 10,000 yards faster than any player in history.||**Brad Johnson:** Has a 63.5 completion percentage and has passed for 2,151 yards, on pace for 3,824. Both figures would set club records.|
|**Marshall Faulk:** Since joining the Rams in 1999, Faulk has averaged 152.6 scrimmage yards per game. In 2000, he set the NFL record for most touchdowns in a season with 26.||**Mike Alstott & Warrick Dunn:** The NFL's most contrasting-styled backfield has combined for 577 yards and seven touchdowns this season.|
|**Great WRs:** Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim, Ricky Proehl. Perhaps the deepest and most threatening group in the NFL has combined for 1,897 yards and 11 TDs in 2001.||**Keyshawn Johnson:** Leads the NFC with 71 receptions and is on pace for an NFL-record 126. Also on target for 1,483 receiving yards, which would set a club record.|
|**Lovie Smith:** Defensive coordinator came from Tampa Bay and has turned Rams defense, which finished 11th in NFC in 2000 (343.4), into conference's No. 1 unit (271.0).||**Warren Sapp:** Has 61.5 sacks since 1995, including the third-most sacks by a DT ever in a single-season with 16.5 in 2000. Is equally adept against the run.|
|**London Fletcher:** Voracious linebacker has two NFC Player of the Week awards and leads the team with 109 tackles, including six 10-tackle games.||**John Lynch:** One of the NFL's premier strong safeties is equally valuable defending the pass as he is the run. Is one of league's biggest hitters and has been to three Pro Bowls.|