The Bucs' offense hasn't started a game without Dave Moore in the tight end slot since 1997
TE Dave Moore and WR Karl Williams were sidelined by injuries…Will Bucs enjoy home field advantage?…Bucs pleased with Brad Johnson's efficiency
The last time Dave Moore failed to start a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, Jim Pyne and Jorge Diaz were the starting guards.
That was December 14, 1997, in New York against the Jets, and Moore's strained neck kept him from doing anything but snapping for punts, as John Davis handled the tight end duties. The only offensive starter from that game who is still a starter for the Bucs in 2001, other than Moore, was rookie running back Warrick Dunn.
Most of the Bucs' offense has changed since that game almost four years ago, but Moore has been the one constant, starting 60 consecutive contests and putting up virtually identical statistics every year. He has not missed a game since November 6, 1994, a stretch of 114 straight contests, and to be honest, he rarely sits out a practice.
But he was out on Wednesday, as the Bucs began their preparations for a rematch with the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Moore suffered a bruised hip on one of his four receptions in Cincinnati last Sunday and is on the injury report for the first time this season.
However, he is listed as probable and is expected to play. Though second-year man Todd Yoder ran with the first-team offense on Wednesday, and rookie Mike Roberg, just promoted from the practice squad, came in as the second tight end, Moore could return to practice by Thursday.
"He's got a little hip swelling and soreness," said Dungy. "We think he's going to be fine by tomorrow and really should be okay for the game.
"He's going to keep his streak going, he promised me."
In fact, though four players missed all or part of Wednesday's session, Dungy indicated that only linebacker Jeff Gooch (hamstring) appears to be in danger of sitting out the Lions game. The team took caution with defensive end Steve White's bruised shoulder and put WR Karl Williams on ice midway through practice when his back tightened up.
"Karl just had some back spasms," said Dungy after eighty-sixing number 86. "Steve White, we held out today, but he should be fine. Dave Moore we held out – we expect both of those guys to probably practice tomorrow. Karl has had this in the past and it should be okay. Other than that, we were pretty good."
With most of the roster healthy and a surprise cloud cover and strong breeze cooling down the practice field, the Bucs had a crisp workout that wrapped up a little early. Dungy, who insists his team is not primed for a letdown against the winless Lions after two big road wins, was vindicated by his team's focused effort.
"It was pretty good," he said. "We had good tempo, I thought, and it was spirited. I think our guys know what's on the line. It was the type of practice you'd like to have.
"We're emphasizing the tempo and making sure we're mentally sharp so we don't have a lot of repeats. We have finished about 10 minutes early the last two Wednesdays."
After a home loss to Chicago on November 18 that dropped the Buccaneers to 4-5, the team believed its next two road games were critical to its playoff hopes. Now that both the Bengals and St. Louis Rams have been vanquished on their own home fields, and Tampa Bay has reasserted itself in the postseason race, the Bucs now have the advantage of playing four of their last five games at home.
That is, if it is indeed an advantage.
After compiling a 19-5 regular season record over its first three seasons in Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs are somewhat disappointed to be only .500 at home this fall. However, that falls right in line with a surprisingly strong road performance by the league as a whole this season.
The Rams, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles are all undefeated on the road this season, a remarkable statistic. Road teams are nearing an even record overall, leaving many to wonder what has happened to the usually strong home field edge in the NFL.
"I think it's just a sign that the league is a little more evenly matched," said Dungy. "The difference between teams is not that great, so teams are going on the road thinking they can win. You saw that last week – Arizona going to Oakland, Detroit at 0-11 going to Chicago and really having a great shot to win the game, New England going to the Jets and beating them."
Why NFL teams have traditionally enjoyed a strong home field edge is not completely clear, though most agree it is some mixture of psychology and sound. Perhaps that first factor is playing a smaller role this season.
"The one thing you have to deal with most places is noise, and that's worth a couple of points," said Dungy. "But it's still 11 against 11, you're playing against the other team. If you can deal with the noise and concentrate, there's really not that much difference playing home and away."
While the Bucs hope that playing at home does mean something down the stretch – and Tampa Bay is 10-1 at home in December under Dungy – they might actually take some solace in the league's improved road fortunes come January, should the team find itself in possession of a Wild Card berth.
It would not be surprising, however, to say that home field advantage reassert itself in the postseason. NFC home teams were 10-0 over the 1999 and 2000 playoffs.
"It will be interesting," said Dungy. "Usually, teams that are home in the playoffs have a better record, meaning they've played better. But we'll see. It's fairly tight and I don't know how it's going to be. Home has big in the NFC the last 10 years."
With 83 receptions through 11 games, WR Keyshawn Johnson needs just four receptions over the Bucs final five weekends to set a new single-season team record in that category.
That's what you call a virtual lock. In that same category, but receiving less attention, is QB Brad Johnson's outstanding passing accuracy. His completion rate of 64.6 percent this season is on pace to destroy the Bucs' record in that category.
The only passer in team history to finish a season with a completion percentage over 60% was Steve DeBerg, who recorded a 60.5% mark in 1984.
If Johnson maintains his current rate of 36.5 passes thrown per game through the full 16 games, he'll finish with 583 pass attempts. To then see his completion percentage fall below 60% for the season, Johnson would have to complete 90 or fewer of his last 233 passes, or 38.6%.
Sounds like another virtual lock. That's comforting for the Bucs' scouting staff, which felt Johnson's accuracy was one of his best traits when sizing him up as a free agent last spring.
"That's one of the things that we wanted to do, was get our percentage of completions up," said Dungy. "He's done that, and that's helped us move the ball. Now, if we can get our running game that efficient, we'll be in good shape. Accuracy is important and Brad has done a good job of that."
Johnson also looks likely to record the first 3,000-yard passing season by a Buc since Craig Erickson in 1993 and is on pace to compile the lowest interception percentage ever by a Tampa Bay hurler. The Bucs' offense has been inconsistent at times this season, but it hasn't hurt itself much with the turnover.
"Part of it is just how you throw, but part of it is understanding defense, throwing to the right person and getting the ball to the right guy, making good decisions," said Dungy of Johnson's remarkable accuracy. "You've got to be able to throw the ball to a certain spot and be accurate, but a lot of it is throwing to the right guy."