The Buccaneers and Vikings have split the last eight season series. Tampa Bay will have to win at home on Sunday in order to extend that streak to nine years in a row.
"I think we know them well and they know us well," said Bucs SS John Lynch. "I think it will all come down to who makes plays. It's time for us to make plays. There's guys in this locker room who are supposed to be big time players, including myself. So, it's time to go make some plays and change the course of the game."
Splitting the season series in not the only tradition the Buccaneers have grown accustomed to these days. Under head coach Tony Dungy, Tampa Bay has started the last three seasons off with a 3-4 record and could very well extend that streak to a fourth with one win and one loss in their next two games.
But out of those three 3-4 starts, two of them have been turned around at Raymond James Stadium with wins over the Minnesota Vikings.
Last season, Minnesota came into Raymond James Stadium as the only undefeated team in the NFL with a 7-0 record, but Tampa Bay thrashed the Vikings at home, 41-13 and went on to win seven of their last nine games.
In 1998, Tampa Bay was 3-4 and faced another unbeaten Vikings team with the identical record of 7-0. The Buccaneers defeated the Vikings at Ray-Jay 27-24 and finished the season 8-8.
Tampa Bay is 3-0 at Raymond James Stadium when hosting Minnesota and they plan on stopping their bleeding yet again with a win over the Vikings on Sunday.
"It seems like every time they come here they're riding high and we're struggling," said Dungy. "We've needed a big win and have been able to get it in the past couple of years and we need to do the same thing this week."
But while most of the Bucs players acknowledged their past tradition with the Vikings and were quick to point out the importance of winning Sunday's game, CB Ronde Barber was not so quick to refer to Minnesota as a Band-Aid.
"I don't want to call them a Band-Aid," said Barber. "We've had some success. This whole NFC Central is a home-at-home type of deal. We win at home, they win away or they win here and we win away. Every time we need a game, we're playing them (Minnesota) at home and we've been fortunate enough to win. Hopefully, the trend stays true."
Bucs Wide receiver Jacquez Green is all too familiar with Tampa Bay's slow starts, but thinks the team should pay more attention to the future rather than the past.
"It seems that way every time," said Green. "But we can't get caught up in what we did in 1996, 97', 98' or 99' and 2000. Now, it's 2001 and everybody knows the Bucs are a good football team and everybody is coming in here to beat us now."
Bucs SS John Lynch thinks their past wins against the Vikings at home can serve as a confidence builder, but that's about all.
"We've played Minnesota really well down here," said Lynch. "But for this week, I think you throw all of that out and maybe use some of that in the back of your mind for some confidence. This team needs some confidence because we've been struggling, but the point is it's going to come down to how we play. If we play like we've played the past couple of weeks, we probably won't get it done. But if we play the kind of football we are capable of playing, then we should be in good shape. But I think that starts with every individual looking at themselves. You don't have to play a perfect game, but you have to play good."
When the Bucs and Vikings met in Week 3, Minnesota had their backs up against the wall with a 0-2 record. Tampa Bay failed to put a desperate Vikings' team down when they had the chance and with a 3-3 Minnesota club coming into Tampa fresh off of a 35-13 win over the 4-2 Green Bay Packers, the roles appear to be reversed.
"At the time, they were struggling and 0-2," said Johnson. "Everyone was kind of pointing the fingers at them, but now the roles have reversed. But regardless of what time of the year it is, it's another ballgame at home and we feel like we have to win it in order to give ourselves a chance to win the division and get in the playoffs later on in the year."
Tampa Bay has only lost five regular season home games at Raymond James Stadium, but the Buccaneers are convinced they will be facing a tough Minnesota team and will have to play as well as they are capable of playing in order to improve to 3-3 on the season.
"I think you have 16 times to check your pride," said Johnson. "And right now, we're 2-3 and that's where our pride is. I think the biggest thing is how hard we prepare this week and how hard we work this week. I think the biggest deal is how we're going to play on Sunday and that's where we have to perform starting this Sunday."
The Buccaneers have been in this boat before and have used the Vikings as a Band-Aid to heal their wounds in the past. Most of the Bucs players are confident past season struggles will ultimately guide them out of their slow start.
"We've been in this situation before," said Bucs WR Reidel Anthony. "And we always come back."
But what exactly does Tampa Bay have to do to turn their season around? Who better to answer that question and remedy the situation than the Bucs personnel that has been through the same situations before?
"Our players and coaching staff who have been here know how we've pulled out of this in the past," said Dungy. "That's what we have to do. We can't worry about anything else but our performance and that's what going to get us better."
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
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