WR Joey Galloway is a former Cowboy, but that has little to do with his motivation to play in Sunday's game at Texas Stadium
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers set a team record with 12 regular-season victories in 2002, they achieved that mark with identical 6-2 records at home and on the road.
The Buccaneers had never won that many road games in a season before, and they haven't duplicated the feat since. To do so again in 2008 would require Tampa Bay to run the table of away games, as they have already lost on two of their three trips this season.
Thus, if the Bucs are to duplicate or even better that 12-4 mark of 2002 this year, they might have to do it through a different formula. The one coaches often mention – win all your home games and steal half of your road games – is still a possibility, as the Bucs are 4-0 so far this year at Raymond James Stadium.
And winning at Dallas on Sunday would get the Bucs back to .500 away from home this year. More importantly, it might just mark Tampa Bay as a truly legitimate Super Bowl contender.
"It's huge to be a team that can win on the road," said defensive tackle Chris Hovan. "You take that advantage away from the home team. If you have a strong team that's coming in that can enforce their will on you at their home place, then you're a contender, then we're starting to talk about down the line. But we have to go out and be a team to win on the road, because you never know how the season's going to end up. We might be playing on the road, we might have home field advantage, who knows? But we have to be ready for every situation that's handed to us."
Guard Davin Joseph thinks the Buccaneers have a good chance to find success on the road, including this weekend, because they are playing fundamentally sound football.
"We have a good team and we're playing well right now," said Joseph. "We're just sticking to the basics, we're just playing hard, we're playing tough, just trying to hit and win a game. We'll just stick with the basics. We're just going to keep playing how we play."
After a 3-0 start, Dallas has stumbled a bit of late, losing three of its last four while dealing with a number of key injuries. However, the Cowboys are still 2-1 at home this year and have traditionally made Texas Stadium one of the more difficult places for visiting teams to conquer. The Bucs' last trip to Dallas, for the Thanksgiving game in 2006, ended in a 38-10 defeat for the visitors.
The Bucs did win in Dallas in the 2001 season opener and they are eager now to prove themselves against a trendy preseason pick to win the NFC. And for some of the veterans, like former New York Giants wide receiver Ike Hilliard, playing in Texas Stadium is enough motivation in and of itself. Hilliard's concussion may keep him from suiting up, but he's still going to enjoy the experience, according to his head coach.
"Ike will travel; he won't miss this game," said Jon Gruden. "He's had some great battles against the Cowboys and this is the last game in Texas Stadium he'll get a chance to probably play in. He wouldn't miss this game. I don't know if he'll be a participant or a spectator, but he'll be there with us."
Will the Buccaneers make the most of their last game at Texas Stadium (barring a playoff return)? The answer will come Sunday, at some point after Tampa Bay and Dallas kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. Here's a look back at some of the key issues that have developed in the week leading up to Sunday's showdown between two top NFC playoff contenders:
The Bucs and Cowboys revealed their more detailed injury reports on Friday afternoon, and they were bursting with big names on both sides.
The Bucs' list includes such key offensive players as starting right guard Arron Sears, tailback Warrick Dunn and a trio of receivers in Joey Galloway, Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall. Sears is probable for the game and Stovall is almost certain not to play, but the other three constitute Tampa Bay's main question marks for Sunday's game. (More on Galloway below.)
Galloway (foot), Hilliard (head) and Dunn (back) are all listed as questionable on the injury report, as is reserve quarterback Brian Griese (right elbow). Stovall and fullback B.J. Askew, who also has a hamstring injury, are doubtful to play. Kicker Matt Bryant (right hamstring), long snapper Andrew Economos (shoulder), guard Arron Sears (back) and linebacker Barrett Ruud (knee) are all listed as probable.
The Bucs hope to have everyone but Askew and Stovall available on Sunday, but few teams are lucky enough to see all of their injury situations resolved at once, especially at midseason. Certain absences will probably force the Buccaneers to adjust their game plan a bit, but they have been able to do that successfully through the first two months of the season, winning five of seven games despite some significant injury issues.
"I think that's the sign of a good team," said tight end Jerramy Stevens, one of the players who has picked up the slack in the passing game when other passcatchers have gone down. "I think we're getting real close to where whoever is called upon is stepping up and making plays. We're doing what it takes to win. That's the sign of a good team, I think."
Dallas has been hit hard by injuries, too. Most notably they will be without starting quarterback Tony Romo, who suffered a broken finger on his throwing hand in Week Six. Former Buccaneer Brad Johnson started in Romo's place against St. Louis last weekend and is now poised to play against the franchise he helped win the Super Bowl in 2002 (more on that below).
Dallas has also just lost safety Roy Williams to the injured reserve list due to a broken arm and heads into the weekend with a 10-person injury report, just like the Buccaneers.
In addition to Romo, four other Cowboys' have been ruled out for the game: starting left guard Kyle Kosier (foot), starting left cornerback Terence Newman, productive rookie running back Felix Jones (hamstring) and linebacker Anthony Spencer (hamstring), a valuable pass-rusher.
Picking Up Speed
Galloway warmed up on the Raymond James Stadium field last Sunday evening before the Bucs took on the franchise that drafted him in the first round in 1995, the Seattle Seahawks. In the end, Galloway wasn't cleared to play, however, preventing an on-field reunion with his former team.
It only took one more week for a similar opportunity to arise. Galloway played four seasons for the Cowboys after being traded to Dallas for in 2000 in exchange for two first-round draft picks.
However, that's more circumstance to Galloway than inspiration. He's obviously itching to play after five games on the sideline, and he knows how much the outcome could mean to his team.
"I think the importance of the game itself is the motivation," said Galloway. "We have some goals and we feel like we've played pretty well up to now. This is just another step."
The same will hopefully be true of Galloway's recovery. Since he returned to practice several weeks ago – albeit in a limited fashion on most days – his status has been a daily discussion around One Buccaneer Place. But he hasn't been surprised by the length of his layoff and has tried to approach his recovery with patience.
"Of course any time you have an injury you're always hoping it will be a shorter rehab process and you'll be able to get back on the field a little quicker," he said. "We sort of knew going into it what it was about and, like I said, we've been improving and hopefully this is the week."
In Galloway's absence, Antonio Bryant has emerged as the team's leading receiver. Bryant has also taken over the split end position with Galloway out – he had been starting at flanker in the first two weeks – and Gruden has indicated that Bryant will continue to play that position even when Galloway returns.
That means the Bucs will have to be creative with how they employ those two passcatchers along with Hilliard and Michael Clayton. Galloway intends to do the best with whatever job he is given.
"I have a role in the offense and that role is to be able to play any position, as all the receivers do," he said. "Wherever Coach chooses to use me or use him, that's his call, but when I am on the field I'll do everything I can to help Antonio and every other guy out there."
Facing the Bull
Brad Johnson has played against the Buccaneers before – eight times, in fact, including the postseason – but Sunday's game will mark the first time he has started against Tampa Bay since leaving the team after the 2004 season.
Johnson, of course, was Tampa Bay's starting quarterback in 2002 when the Buccaneers successfully stalked the Super Bowl XXXVII title. He also started for the team in 2001 and 2003, and the first three games of 2004. He holds the franchise's single-season records for pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns, all set in 2003, and was a Pro Bowl selection for Tampa Bay in 2002.
Obviously, many in the Bay area still think fondly of Johnson, including the head coach who inherited him as his starter when he arrived in '02.
"I love that guy," said Gruden of the man his former teammates still call "The Bull." "I've texted him and talked to him a few times periodically. We've stayed in touch over the years. He's special to me and he always will be. Very special. He's a world champion and I wish him the best. He's a stud."
Obviously, the Bucs don't actually wish Johnson the best this weekend. The veteran passer's relief performance on Sunday could go a long way towards determining if the Cowboys get back on track after a rough patch or if the Buccaneers continue to streak towards the top of the NFC standings.
Johnson threw three interceptions in Dallas' loss at St. Louis last weekend but Buccaneer defenders are expecting the same heady passer who had so much success in Tampa.
"Brad's still out there, and he's still playing great ball right now," said Hovan. "The team is on his shoulders right now until Tony gets back, and I'm sure the onus is going to be put on the offensive line and Marion Barber to run the ball, manage the ball, manage the game. And get it to [Terrell Owens] when they have a certain opportunity to. We're going to have to be aware of everything that they're trying to do to attack us, and just go out there and play Buc defense against these guys."
Gruden sees the same deep supporting cast around Johnson and comes to the same conclusion. If Johnson can get the football into the hands of Dallas' many playmakers, the Cowboys' fourth-ranked offense will be as potent as ever.
"Any time you change quarterbacks, nothing stays the same," said Gruden. "It's not easy on a team, but fortunately they have a guy that generally takes care of the ball, he's a disciplined guy, he's a great competitor, and just write the names down – they've got a hell of a supporting cast. They're loaded, and they're talented. They're coming off a tough stretch in their season and we're counting on their best football."
Facing the Dallas Cowboys can make the other team feel like it's operating in a vacuum, not because of a lack of a respect but because the Cowboys are currently generating quite a few storylines that are of national interest.
Various power polls indicate that the Buccaneers are getting plenty of respect in the media, no matter how much attention is being focused on One Buccaneer Place. And if the team is flying under the radar a little bit, even with a 5-2 record and a tie for first in the NFC South, that's just fine with Buccaneer players.
"I think what we're more concerned about is handling our business in this house, and trying to be the best we can be on a weekly basis," said quarterback Jeff Garcia. "I think that there's still a long way for this team to go as far as getting better on a weekly basis. I think every new game is a huge challenge for this team, and how are we going to find ways to overcome that challenge and find ways to win that football game.
"I don't want to necessarily listen to where we rank amongst the NFC or where we rank in the NFL. I think right now we're 5-2, we want to be 6-2, and that's the main focus of this team right now. If we continue to climb that ladder and gain more respect, so be it. But it's all about what were taking care of within ourselves right now, within this family. And if handle our business, we're capable of doing good things."
Other topics on the Bucs' minds this week:
WR Antonio Bryant on the way his role has grown in the offense: "I think it is a matter of being patient. Sometimes you want to be more involved. But when you're on a successful team like I am, I'm more happy with winning than anything. I know my opportunities will come. I'm happy with the situation that we're in and I'm just trying to make it a better situation."
WR Michael Clayton on what Bryant has brought to the offense: "He's a dynamic player. The guy can catch the ball and make plays after the catch. He has great energy. He's a good team guy. We've really grown close this year. I really appreciate guys like that that come out and work hard and really don't complain and make plays. We need a player like that on this team if we're looking to win some games and go deep in the playoffs. He's doing a great job."
Garcia on the importance of avoiding turnovers: "It's important that as you get older you continue to get wiser, and you continue to hone your skills and your game in way that you play to your abilities. I may not be as fast as I was five years ago, and I may not be as strong or whatever it may be, but hopefully I've become smarter. And I've become more understanding of what defenses are trying to do and what we're trying to do offensively, and in that sense be able to make good decisions on the football field."
DT Chris Hovan on the current play of the Bucs' defense: "I think we're playing well right now. I think the sky is the limit for this defense. We have proven players, we have young guys who are trying to go out there and prove themselves. I think we have a great gel of youth and veteran leadership in this locker room. The key point is we have to show up every Sunday and play. We can't just say, 'We want to do this' and 'We want to do that.' We have to go out there and put it on tape."
G Davin Joseph on the team finding balance between offense and defense: "We've had some games in the past where the defense supported the offense, and we've had some games where the offense supported the defense. The feeling right now where we have a balance as far as where one unit is lagged and the other one can pick up the slack, then when we're both on and we can really have a convincing win. We're at a point right now where we're really happy with the way that both sides are playing; we just have to keep it up."
TE Jerramy Stevens on injuries at the wide receiver position being an opportunity for the tight ends: "It's an opportunity for a bunch of guys to step up. You know Brian Clark is going to have an opportunity. We don't know exactly what it's going to be on game day, but somebody is going to have a chance and it's usually somebody different every week. Everybody's just got to be ready to pick up a little bit more of the load and hopefully go on and execute our game plan."