Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) at Denver Broncos (3-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: FOX (Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Tom Helmer)
SERIES: 7th meeting. The Broncos lead the series 4-2. The two teams haven't met in Denver since 1996 when the Bucs fell 27-23. The Bucs have only won once in Mile High - in 1993 - when they defeated the Broncos 17-10.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bucs QB Brian Griese has thrown three interceptions each of the past two weeks. He doesn't want to do any favors for a Broncos defense that hasn't shown it can stop the run or the pass effectively. Going largely unnoticed is the play of Tampa Bay's offensive line, which has allowed just four sacks and provided consistent running lanes for RB Earnest Graham. Graham has four runs over 45 yards this season, but the Bucs want more early-game ground production against a tough road opponent. ... The Broncos enter with the league's top-ranked overall offense and second-ranked passing game, but it's RB Selvin Young who Denver needs to get a major contribution from. As formidable as QB Jay Cutler is throwing to WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, the Broncos don't want him constantly pushing the ball into the teeth of the Tampa-2 defense. And controlling the ball more would no doubt lend a big hand to Denver's struggling defense.
KEY INJURIES: Bucs: QB Jeff Garcia (ankle) could be elevated to Griese's backup this week; WR Joey Galloway (foot sprain) and OG David Joseph (broken foot) are questionable. Broncos: NT Dewayne Robertson (knee) should return this week; RB Andre Hall (wrist) should play; WR Darrell Jackson (calf) is likely out.
FAST FACTS: Bucs RB Warrick Dunn needs 64 rushing yards to pass Eddie George (10,441) for 21st on the NFL's all-time list. ... Royal leads all rookies with 27 receptions and his 16.6-yard punt return average ranks second in the NFL.
PREDICTION: Broncos 30-27
--S Sabby Piscitelli did not practice Thursday and is expected to miss Sunday's game at Denver.
--G Davin Joseph participated in practice Thursday. He has not played since breaking his foot in the second preseason game. But Joseph believes he will play at Denver. He may not start, but he could see action.
--WR Joey Galloway did not practice due to a foot strain and is expected to miss his third straight game Sunday at Denver.
--CB Aqib Talib was limited in practice Thursday because of an illness.
--FB B.J. Askew has a torn hamstring and is expected to miss the next three-to-four weeks.
--DT Ryan Sims was limited in practice Thursday with a hamstring strain. He is expected to play against the Broncos.
--DT Dewayne Robertson practiced for the second straight day on Thursday and should be ready to play this week. He was inactive last week because of a knee injury.
--DE John Engelberger returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday. He is dealing with a knee injury but has a chance to play against Tampa Bay.
--WR Darrell Jackson remained a limited participant in practice because of a calf injury. Because he doesn't play special teams, he could be inactive again Sunday.
--CB Champ Bailey has one interception in four games. That is the only interception this season for the Broncos, who need to create more turnovers.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Bucs appear to be planning to make Jeff Garcia the No. 2 quarterback for Sunday's game against the Broncos.
Garcia, 37, had been the inactive third quarterback since being benched following the season-opening loss at New Orleans Sept. 7.
But coach Jon Gruden has voiced his displeasure over Brian Griese throwing six interceptions in his last two starts. On Wednesday, Garcia took some reps with the No. 1 offense during the install period, and according to quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, had increased reps in practice.
For the first time three weeks, it was Luke McCown -- and not Garcia -- who remained after practice Wednesday for some extra work with Olson. That time is normally reserved for the No. 3 quarterback who runs the scout team.
An official announcement won't be made by the team until one hour before kickoff Sunday.
"Jeff is coming along and (Gruden) tries to give them all work -- some get more than others," Olson said. "Jeff got some today and Luke will get some I'm sure tomorrow.
"He just kind of likes to watch them and listen to them in the meeting room. We meet every day and he meets with them every day and he questions all of them. He's trying to see where Jeff is at right now and how he's coming along and he's coming along good."
On Wednesday, Griese said he isn't concerned about the perception that Gruden could have a quick hook if he turns the ball over at Denver. Griese has won eight of his last nine starts for the Bucs dating back to 2005.
"I don't get into all that. I take it week by week," Griese said. "I think that's the only thing I can offer right now. We talked ad nauseam about the interceptions on Sunday. One of them was a bad read on a coverage and I wasn't expecting the guy to be there in that situation and he made a great play. One was a telegraph. I got down in my checkdown a little too early in my read. Those are things I plan on fixing."
Garcia, who threw only four interceptions all last season and was named to the Pro Bowl, missed most of training camp and did not play in three preseason games due to a right calf injury. He also had a jammed pinkie finger on his throwing hand and sprained his ankle against the Saints.
But Olson said Garcia is healthy now and his mobility has improved each week.
"He seems healthy now and his legs look better," Olson said. "Even he said, "I was watching myself in the preseason games and in the opener and I thought, gosh, I look so slow.' So he started concentrating on the separation from the center.
"Part of it is he got older and he started wearing sweats to practice. At his age, with the extra weight on there, I said, "You look slower in practice to be honest with you.' So I told him to take your sweats off and start wearing shorts and if you need to keep the muscles warm, we'll get a bike out here or something to make sure you don't get cooled down between periods."
The finger injury, which bothered Garcia when receiving the snap from center, no longer is an issue.
"He was getting the snap and something would hurt it about every third day," Olson said. "So he told me he moved his hand tighter and once he gets (the ball), he slides it out. He said, "Now when I get it, it seems to have helped."
When Michael Pittman was just hoping at the end of the preseason to make the Broncos' final roster, he couldn't have imagined the role he has carved out with the team.
Pittman started the season as the team's goal-line back and scored a pair of touchdowns in the season opener. He was given some additional playing time in passing situations and has gotten a few more plays in regular situations as the season has progressed.
"His role expands each and every week for us," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "He started off with just third downs and goal lines and now he is coming in a little bit more."
Pittman impressed the coaches with his willingness to do anything they asked, and how well he handled different situations.
"I accepted my role and my role has changed every single week," Pittman said. "I'm proud to be part of this team."
Pittman will face his former team, Tampa Bay, on Sunday. He had nothing bad to say about the Buccaneers, who decided not to re-sign him in the offseason.
"Things happen for a reason," Pittman said. "There's a reason why I left Tampa and there's a reason why I am here in Denver."
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