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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers


With every week feeling like an elimination game, Buccaneers like Mike Alstott are finding ways to overcome injuries and contribute to the playoff run


The Bucs thought their Pro Bowl fullback might miss the rest of the regular season, but Mike Alstott is eyeing an earlier return

Pete Pierson left One Buccaneer Place with a serious limp Sunday night. After pulling his left calf muscle early in Sunday's game at Miami and not returning for the rest of the afternoon, Pierson was already considered doubtful for next Monday's game against St. Louis.

Monday morning, Pierson came back to work with a much-improved gait. While his calf remains the most significant of Tampa Bay's injuries from the win at Miami, Pierson is in better shape this morning that expected. It left the training staff wondering, humorously, what Pierson did to speed up the healing over the night.

Perhaps he was taking pointers from FB Mike Alstott, who has proven to be a fast healer himself. When Alstott suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Chicago on November 19, the team announced that he could be out for as long as eight weeks. On Monday, the Buccaneers revealed that Alstott may play against the Rams.

"He may play this week - we'll see how it goes," said Head Coach Tony Dungy, who didn't want to make any guarantees on Monday. "Having an extra day off will help, and we should have just about everyone besides Al Singleton and Pete ready to go on Thursday. Mike Alstott may even practice a little bit on Thursday."

According to the Buccaneers' training staff, Alstott is almost certain to practice on Thursday when the team begins its normal preparations for the Rams game. As one of the final tests for that decision, Alstott ran on the team's practice field on Monday morning, and experienced no problems. In fact, Alstott could be listed as high as 'probable' on the team's Thursday injury report.

Technically, Alstott is not ahead of his healing schedule, just at the far positive end of it. The most optimistic diagnosis for the big fullback back on November 19 was a return in four weeks, as it was an injury that did not require surgery. Still, the team really targeted a later weekend.

"We thought 4-6 weeks," said Dungy. "We thought it could be anywhere from the St. Louis game to the postseason, if we got there. I think all of us were kind of shooting for Green Bay, but he's doing well and we'll see how it goes if he continues to make progress."

Pierson, who on Sunday looked for all the world like a player who would debut on the injury report as 'doubtful' or even 'out', is now expected to start out at 'questionable.' That designation basically means the player has a 50-50 chance of playing. Pierson has started every game at left tackle for the Buccaneers this season, though he splits time in each game with George Hegamin. Hegamin would start in his place if Pierson is unable to go.

Alstott isn't the only Buccaneer that is eager to play a part in the Bucs' nail-biting stretch run. S John Lynch is playing with a left shoulder that, without the protective harness he wears to keep his arm from moving in certain directions, would likely become dislocated again each week. That almost occurred on Sunday in Miami, and Lynch missed a few plays while experiencing about five minutes of intense pain.

Linebackers Derrick Brooks (knee) and Shelton Quarles (ankle) each limped off the field early in Sunday's game, but were able to return after missing just a few plays. The two teamed up to create a turnover in the second quarter that led to a Buccaneer field goal, with Brooks lunging to tip a Jay Fiedler pass and Quarles diving to pick off the deflection.

Brooks and Quarles will now join the list of players who are persevering week to week despite injuries that never truly go away. They certainly weren't going to let those ailments keep them off the field in a tight game in Miami.

"I think we have some guys that are very tough-minded," said Dungy. "I think we all realize the urgency of where we are right now. This was a big, big game for us, and we did have some guys get banged up – Shelton Quarles, Derrick – guys coming back into the ballgame and realizing that we have to give it everything we've got. That's important. You win games with people like that and with a mindset like that."

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