1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson called this Sunday's home game against the Minnesota Vikings a "must win." Is he right? You bet. The Bucs always seem to start off 3-4 - they have the past three consecutive seasons - and it's critical that they do everything possible to avoid going 2-4 heading into Green Bay. The fact that the Bucs play the Vikings helps for a couple of reasons.
The first reason is that the Bucs and Vikings have always split their series since the Tony Dungy era began in 1996, with the home teams winning each year except for 1997. Since the Vikings won in the Week 2 contest at the Metrodome, history suggests that Sunday will be the Buccaneers' day.
The second reason is that the Vikings have helped the Bucs get off the schnide. In 2000, the Vikings served as tonic for the 3-4 Buccaneers, who beat Minnesota 41-13 at Raymond James Stadium and reeled off three straight wins. That win over Minnesota prompted a 7-1 run down the stretch before a season-ending loss at Green Bay.
In 1998, the 3-4 Buccaneers defeated the unbeaten Vikings at the Ray-Jay 27-24 in a key win that enabled the team to finish 8-8 and avoid a losing season. It seems like whenever the Bucs' season has been in critical condition, the Vikings have always obliged by being Tampa Bay's get well medicine.
2. How bad are things for the 2-3 Buccaneers? Well if the team beats Minnesota this weekend and loses at Green Bay next weekend they will be 3-4 on the year. Nothing new there with 3-4 starts becoming the norm since 1998. But let's take a closer look at the 2-3 record, and see how bad - or good - things may be for Tampa Bay.
The Bucs' two wins came against Dallas and Green Bay. Both teams are NFC teams, and the Green Bay win is significant because they are an NFC Central team, and one that leads the division.
The Bucs' three losses consist of a road loss to division rival Minnesota and a road and home loss to the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively. The loss to the Vikings stings more than the home loss to the Steelers, because Pittsburgh is an AFC team. The fact that the Bucs only have one NFC loss bodes well. It beats having three losses in the conference or the division.
No, Tampa Bay isn't playing well, and don't mistake me for a Bucs' apologist looking through pewter-colored glasses. I'm simply stating that the Bucs' situation could be a loss worse. If this team can rally, starting Sunday at the Ray-Jay against Minnesota, their 2-3 start will be easier to dig out of because two of the losses were to AFC teams rather than NFC teams. If the Bucs can take care of business in the NFC Central and manage wins over NFC teams like New Orleans and Philadelphia, they'll be in great shape when it comes to playoff-seeding tie-breakers.
But the rally must begin on Sunday, otherwise it's a moot point.
3. One of the things the Buccaneers must be wary of when they clash with the Vikings this week is Daunte Culpepper's penchant for running the quarterback draw down near the goal line. Culpepper is the Vikings' most dangerous rushing threat, leading the team in rushes (41), yards (273) and touchdowns (5). His 34-yard run is the team's longest this year.
In two of the last three Bucs vs. Vikings games, Culpepper has scored two touchdowns - both of them coming in Minnesota's wins, including this season's coming from behind victory against the Bucs in Week 2.
Culpepper loves to run the quarterback draw from the opponents' 15-yard line and in. One of the Bucs' defensive keys will have to be using a linebacker to spy Culpepper inside the 15. If Monte Kiffin and Tampa Bay's defensive coaches don't spy Culpepper inside their 15 and he scores a rushing touchdown they should be fired ... or at least be docked a game check.
Culpepper's quarterback draw has been the Vikings' favorite red zone play this season. The Bucs have to stop it.
4. One of the things our staff writers do at Buccaneer Magazine is watch the game film after each Buccaneers game to gain some extra insight into what is going on with the team. One disturbing trend I've noticed is that when the Bucs are in the I-formation and Brad Johnson starts Keyshawn Johnson in motion (usually out of and away from the twins set with Jacquez Green), Warrick Dunn always gets the ball and he always runs toward the side where KJ motioned to.
I can understand wanting to run Dunn behind Johnson, who is one of the best blocking receivers in the league, and a guy that usually takes out linebackers and safeties - not just cornerbacks. But this is a dangerous tendency that is easily discovered after watching a few of this year's game tapes. If your humble correspondent can pick up these tendencies you can only imagine opposing defensive coordinators who know a lot more about football than I do and get paid a lot more than I do can pick up the scheme.
Perhaps the troubling thing is that through five games the Bucs haven't ran any play-action or counter plays which will go away from Johnson to fool the defense. See for yourself. Just watch Johnson this weekend and then watch Dunn follow No. 19.
5. I'm writing about Pittsburgh safety Lee Flowers calling the Bucs "paper champions" after the Steelers' 17-10 dismantling of Tampa Bay last Sunday in this week's Buccaneer Blitz column in Buccaneer Magazine. I've already talked to a few players who really took those comments to heart. Those players said it's easy to blow off talk radio or the papers bashing the Bucs, but when fellow members of the NFL fraternity of players starts making fun of the team - that's a different story.
Bucs fans can only hope that Flowers' comments will provide some bulletin board material for this weekend's game against the Minnesota Vikings. If embarrassing taunts and bashing by their peers doesn't motivate this emotion-less team right now, nothing will.
For the best inside information on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to subscribe to Buccaneer Magazine.