Bucs' Regular Season Will End in Unique Fashion

January 2 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles matchup looked like one of the most intruiging games of the 2001 season when the NFL released its schedule in April. But now that both the Bucs and Eagles have secured their places in the playoffs, will Sunday night's game at Raymond James Stadium be nothing more than an exhibition game? Buccaneer Magazine sheds some light on what to expect Sunday night.

The Philadelphia Eagles were originally scheduled to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 16, but because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the league rescheduled Week 2's games for this weekend. Who knows what might have transpired if the Bucs and Eagles would have clashed in Week 2, but what we do know is this weekend's Bucs-Eagles game doesn't look like it will mean much.

In fact, ESPN's Len Pasquarelli reported that since 1970, there have only been seven situations where two teams met in the regular season finale and then met again the following week in the playoffs. But this will be the fist time the first game will have absolutely no playoff implications before the playoff meeting. Tampa Bay has secured the No. 6 seed in the NFC while Philadelphia has clinched the NFC East and the No. 3 playoff spot in the NFC.

The 9-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will attempt to avenge their 21-3 loss to the 10-5 Philadelphia Eagles in last year's playoffs on Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium. Although Tampa Bay's players and coaches will not make their plan clear, all signs indicate the Pewter Pirates will count on their backups to get both revenge and their 10th win of the season in the regular season finale against the Eagles.

"We'll have a plan on how we're going to play," said Bucs head coach Tony Dungy. "We'll feel good about winning the game with whoever is out there."

Tampa Bay has a total of 17 players listed on their injury list, which does not bode well for the Bucs. But one should not be too concerned with the number of players on that list. Tampa Bay may be listing all of the player injuries to avoid having any questions raised by the NFL about why the Bucs do not play their starters or pull them out of the game early on Sunday night. Although Sunday night's Bucs-Eagles game will not function as a normal preseason game would, Tampa Bay's starters will not likely see much action, especially since 15 of them are in the infirmary.

"In the preseason, you have 65 or 70 guys," said Dungy. "We have 46 guys who can play. So it's not going to be a case where you take 25 or 30 of those guys and tell them they're not playing. Some guys are going to play more than others. It's the time of game where everybody has got to be ready to go. It's really going to be up in the air. We've got some guys are who are banged up and will not see a lot of playing time. It's all going to based on individual cases."

Tampa Bay's coaching staff would be wise not to play their starters, but make no mistake about it. The Bucs want to send a message to Philadelphia by winning on Sunday night.

"I think it's important (to send a message)," said Bucs SS John Lynch. "We have that game from last year fresh in our mind. It was an embarrassing game for us and they really took it to us. We've got to go show them and ourselves that we can stand toe-to-toe with this team. Messages do get clearly sent in games of this nature."

Any pressure that surfaces from this game will probably fall onto Tampa Bay's shoulders. The Bucs lost to the Eagles in Philadelphia last season, and Veterans Stadium will again host the Bucs-Eagles showdown in the first round of the playoffs on Jan. 12 or 13. While the Eagles could blow off a loss to the Bucs on Sunday night and use the fact that it's a road game as an excuse, the Pewter Pirates can't do the same. Tampa Bay wants to be mentally tough when they travel to Philly for the playoff game, and a win on Sunday night can go a long way in terms of doing just that.

"Whoever dominates (on Sunday night) will have some sort of mental edge," said Walker. "I think this team wants this and we have to go up there and get a win. But we really can't talk about playoffs. We have to play them this Sunday and we have to get ourselves a win"

Although Tampa Bay may make some adjustments on Sunday night based on what Philadelphia does at the beginning and during the game, expect the Bucs to stick with their plan, which seems to be resting most of the starters, not tipping their hand and counting on their backups to keep their momentum going by finishing the regular season on a three-game win streak.

"We can't really control how they (the Eagles) approach things," said Dungy. "We're going to try to do things in a way we feel is best for us, and I'm sure they'll do the same thing."

Tampa Bay is preparing for Philadelphia as if it were a playoff-type game, but when Sunday night rolls around, expect a bland, but intense game in which both teams rest their starters (for the most part) and try to go into the playoff game with momentum.

"I'm not exactly sure who we're going to see," said Dungy. "All 53 of our guys are going to practice and prepare and be ready to go. It would be nice to get some of the younger guys into the game. But most importantly, we want to win."

Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com

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