CB Donnie Abraham and his Buccaneer teammates will enjoy a restful weekend
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 1999 regular season in a flurry, winning eight of nine games to steal the NFC Central Division title from the Minnesota Vikings. It was nine weeks of intense concentration and hard work for a team that needed to regain its focus after starting out 3-4.
And on the tenth week, they rested.
Well, sort of. On Thursday, the Buccaneers finished up a short week of practice with an early afternoon workout, then headed off for a leisurely three day weekend. The Bucs can afford to relax for a few days in this tense time because they were one of two NFC teams to earn a bye. Tampa Bay's 11-5 record was second in the conference only to St. Louis' 13-3, and thus the Bucs and Rams can watch the Wild Card round from the comfort of their own homes.
That's a comfort to a team banged up by 16 rugged games, but it might be a concern for fans who fear their team losing its focus. Not to worry, said Head Coach Tony Dungy.
"We'll be fine, and that's one of the reasons we do things the same way a lot," said Dungy as his players left the field on Thursday. "When we have breaks in the schedule in training camp, we give them time off; when we have the bye week, we give them time off. You want to simulate these things so that it's not the first time that it comes up. I think our guys know how to handle bye weeks."
That doesn't mean that Dungy is above offering a few reminders as to how the long weekend could best be spent. "Just relax, be with your families, get away from football a little bit," said Dungy, "but keep the focus on what we're trying to do and be ready when we come back on Monday. And I think we will do that. I think we'll be rejuvenated and ready to go."
Dungy and the rest of the Buccaneers' coaching staff won't take quite that much time off, choosing to continue preparations on Friday for the January 15 Divisional Playoff Game before spending Saturday and Sunday at home. On Saturday, the Wild Card round begins with Buffalo visiting Tennessee at 12:30 p.m. EST followed by Detroit at Washington at 4:05 p.m. EST. Dungy definitely plans to catch the second half of that twin bill.
I'm going to watch Saturday, for sure," said Dungy. "If Washington wins, then we know that's who we play, and that will be fine. If Washington doesn't win, I have to watch on Sunday, too."
A Washington to Detroit would mean that the winner of Sunday's 12:35 p.m. EST meeting between Minnesota and Dallas would come to Raymond James Stadium for the Divisional round. That would mean another afternoon of football for the Buccaneer coaches, but don't expect Dungy to turn it into a scouting session.
"I always just watch as a fan," he said. "I totally watch as a fan. We'll get the coaching tapes the next day and we'll be able to look at that and pick things apart. But, for me, I just watch just watch like any other fan would and root and second-guess."
Chances are that most of the Tampa Bay players will be glued to their television sets on Saturday as well, but there was a little more business to be taken care of on Thursday. Though the bye week was a useful rest for the players with nagging injuries, it was also a chance for the team to drill on its fundamentals. Dungy stressed that point, to no one's surprise, and also urged his team to keep up their intensity level.
"Practice was good," Dungy said on Thursday, repeating his assessment from Wednesday. "We rested guys that weren't totally 100 percent, but we got a lot done. We got some young guys in the mix. I thought our effort was really good, given the fact that we don't play for another week. So I was happy with it."
The rested players that Dungy referred to included such key Buccaneers as Donnie Abraham and Brad Culpepper. While Culpepper is recovering from a torn tendon in his right foot, many of the Bucs are simply feeling the rigors of a long season. For them, the bye week was a chance to recharge.
"We had a few guys that had minor (injury) things or just weary legs," said Dungy. "We rested those guys and didn't take a chance on pulling a muscle at this point. It wasn't a practice that we had to get in, so anybody that was a little bit nicked up, we held them out today."
QB Trent Dilfer also sat out practice on Thursday after fully participating in a workout on Wednesday for the first time since November. Dilfer suffered a broken right clavicle in the Buccaneers' win at Seattle on November 28 and has just about completed the standard six-week healing process. He was sharp on Wednesday and Dungy felt that he got enough work in during that practice.
In fact, all of the Bucs' players got in enough work this week and will now enjoy their hard-earned three-day rest. Whether they'll actually be able to relax or not is another story. With the team's ultimate goal still within reach, most Buccaneers will be eager to get back into action.
"We're feeling great and it is very exciting right now," said Dungy. "There are 12 teams still in the hunt, and by the time we come back to work on Monday, that will be down to eight. You know that you're in the elite group, you're in that group that's playing for a championship, and that's exciting."