WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
SPREAD: Bucs by 3
WHERE THE SAINTS STAND:: 7-6 Record. The Saints are in third place in the NFC West Division and they are breathing down the neck of the Pewter Pirates for the sixth and final seed in the NFC playoff race.
HEAD COACH: Jim Haslett (0-0 vs. Bucs head coach Tony Dungy).
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike McCarthy
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ron Zook
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Al Everest
MATCHUP TO WATCH:. SAINTS MLB CHARLIE CLEMONS vs. BUCCANEERS OFFENSIVE LINE: Clemons has recorded a whopping 11.5 sacks this season, and he's a middle linebacker. Saints defensive coordinator Ron Zook likes to blitz Clemons and does a nice job of disguising him in the blitz packages. New Orleans defense has recorded 45 sacks this season, and they have a very physical and effective pass rush. Tampa Bay's offensive line has been woeful this season. They have allowed QB Brad Johnson to be sacked 44 times and he has taken a beating this season. Tampa Bay's offense has struggled against defenses that blitz effectively, but they will have to halt Clemons and Co. in order to move the ball on offense.
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 22nd RUSHING: 30th PASSING: 11th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 9th RUSHING: 17th PASSING: 6th
HOW THE SAINTS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 6th RUSHING: 9th PASSING:5th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 13th RUSHING: 9th PASSING: 20th
A KNIGHT'S TALE: Saints SS Sammy Knight is having an outstanding season and anchors New Orleans' secondary. Knight has intercepted six passes, forced one fumble and recorded one sack this season. Knight is a disciplined safety and can defend both the pass and the run.
BROOKS' BUNCH: No, we're not referring to Bucs LB Derrick Brooks' charity organization. Saints QB Aaron Brooks has New Orleans' offense ranked 6th overall in the NFL. Brooks has thrown for 3,338 yards, 22 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. Brooks can be just as dangerous on the ground as he is through the air. Brooks is averaging 4.6 yards per rush this season and has taken off 68 times for 313 yards. Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy has designed running plays in their playbook for Brooks, and Tampa Bay's defense has struggled against quarterbacks who can run and pass effectively.
TURNOVER MANIA: Both New Orleans and Tampa Bay take care of the ball on offense and have a knack for creating turnovers on defense. Tampa Bay has a plus 10 turnover ratio while New Orleans has a plus seven. Tampa Bay's defense has forced 10 fumbles and intercepted 19 passes this season. New Orleans' defense has forced 15 fumbles and recorded 14 interceptions. It's probably safe to say the team who wins the turnover battle on Sunday will have a great chance of winning the football game.
BUCS MUST TAKE THE SAINTS OFFENSE BY THE HORN: Saints WR Joe Horn is a lethal weapon on their offense. Horn has recorded 74 catches for 1,153 yards and scored seven touchdowns. Horn has great hands and speed, which allows him to be a solid possession receiver as well as a deep threat.
DECEMBER KARMA: Under head coach Tony Dungy, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have posted an 11-1 record at home in the month of December, including 9-0 at Raymond James Stadium.
SECURE YOUR LOCKERS The Saints signed free agent WR Albert Connell in the offseason, but not only has he been a bust, but New Orleans thinks he's a thief, too. The Saints have accused Connell of stealing money out of rookie RB Deuce McAllister's locker. While Connell's agent insists Connell was just pulling a rookie prank on McAllister, the Saints insist they have video surveillance that shows Connell stealing the money. The Saints have suspended Connell for the rest of the season.
BUCS SOUND OFF ON THEIR UPCOMING OPPONENT
Bucs head coach Tony Dungy on New Orleans defensive front four: "They are a very active group,"' said Dungy. "They have some exceptional pass rushers and they put a lot of pressure on you. That is going to be paramount for us, to take care of those guys."'
Dungy on the importance of getting Tampa Bay's running game going against the Saints defense: You have to be able to run," said Dungy. "I don't think we can afford to be one-dimensional against these guys and just throw the ball. I've said all along that we have to get our run game going in December to get where we want to go. I don't know how many times we have to run it, but when we do run it, we have to be effective."
Dungy on the Saints offense: "They've got a tough offense. They're moving the ball and making big plays. (Aaron) Brooks is moving around and playing a lot like Randall Cunningham played when he was younger. That's been impressive. Ricky Williams is a tough, hard-nosed back. Joe Horn is a speed receiver, so they've got three big playmakers that are doing a lot of damage.
Dungy when asked if it's important for the Bucs to score early so the fans do not turn on the team: We can't really worry about the fans. It's important for us to score one more point than New Orleans. We would like to score early and take momentum. New Orleans has been a slow starting team, but they're outscoring opponents in the third quarter by about 75 points. This team can take advantage if you have a letdown.
Dungy on the playoff implications in Sunday's Bucs-Saints game.: "We know one thing for sure, if we don't beat the Saints, we have to depend on help,"' said Dungy said. "We'd have to have them lose two games at home, which you really can't count on. This eighth win is probably the most important one of the season."
Dungy on Saints RB Ricky Williams "Ricky is tough. He's a good, Pro Bowl caliber back. He's probably the toughest, most physical guy we're going up against all year. We're going to have to have a lot of guys hitting him and making tackles. At home, we've been pretty good at that and hopefully, we can keep that going."
Dungy on how his team is preparing for the Saints "The way guys are going about things, the note-taking, the attention to detail generally picks up in these types of situations," said Dungy. "If we don't beat the Saints, then we've got to depend on help. We've got to have them lose two games at home, which you really can't depend on."
Dungy when asked if he was ready to give a playoff guarantee "I don't give guarantees on things that I can't control."
Bucs CB Donnie Abraham on passing former Buc Cedric Brown (29 interceptions) on Tampa Bay's all-time interceptions list by recording the 30th interception of his career on Sunday against Chicago: "I definitely would have preferred it on a better day," said Abraham. "I guess you can say it's bittersweet. It's good for me and it's been good for this team. It means I have helped my team and been able to get them the ball back on offense 30 times. That' s the one way I can look at it."
Bucs QB Brad Johnson on their game against the Saints "This game will dictate who's going to make the playoffs,"' said Johnson. "So I think there's a little buzz of energy around the locker room. Obviously, this becomes a playoff week for us."'
Tampa Bay SS John Lynch on what type of atmosphere the Bucs and Saints will be playing in at Ray-Jay on Sunday: "I think it's going to be a playoff atmosphere," said Lynch. "The reality is we're still in this thing. We all realize that this is an extremely important game for us to get into the playoffs. "I don't think it could be any more clear and if you don't have that type of attitude, then something's wrong with you."
Bucs MLB Jamie Duncan on Sunday's game against the Saints: "It's a one-game playoff between us and New Orleans," said Duncan. "If we don't win this week, our playoff chances are pretty much out the door. We'd have to rely on a miracle and we don't want to do that."
FLYNN'S FINAL: The Bucs and Saints are battling each other for a playoff spot in the NFC, which makes this showdown a playoff game in itself. The winner will likely get in while the loser will have to hope for help.
New Orleans is a physical team, especially on defense. This type of matchup does not favor Tampa Bay's offensive line. The Saints defensive rush is one of the best in the league while the Bucs offensive line might be one of the worst. Tampa Bay will have to hold off New Orleans' pass rush in order to give QB Brad Johnson time to throw.
On defense, Tampa Bay will have to remain disciplined against QB Aaron Brooks and Co. Brooks can beat teams with his arm and/or his legs. This combination has been deadly, especially for the Bucs. Tampa Bay will have to get pressure on Brooks early and often, but most importantly, they can't allow him to scramble out of the pocket and beat the defense with his legs.
Saints RB Ricky Williams is one of the best in the league. He is a physical and speedy running back that can be effective on the ground and through the air. Williams is averaging 4.0 yards per carry and has rushed for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns. Williams is also third on the team in receptions with 51.
Turnovers will be key in this game. Tampa Bay will have to win the turnover battle. Their defense will have to create some turnovers in order to set up the offense with good field position.
Brooks and Williams are a dangerous duo, and they will be difficult to handle. These two players along with New Orleans' explosive defense will probably be too much for Tampa Bay to overcome. May the best team win.
FLYNN'S PICK: Saints 23 Bucs 13
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
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