ROAD WORRIERS

The Bucs have a long flight to play in a hostile environment Tampa Bay has struggled away from home all season. Chargers will line up former Bucs receiver Keenan McCardell.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had more than just a few second chances this season. They are up to about their fifth chance right now, staying in the playoff hunt despite a 5-7 record because no other team in the NFC seems to want the spot. Entering Sunday's game against the Chargers, the Bucs are, mathematically still alive and with an easy schedule down the stretch, things still aren't over. With each loss by the Bucs, everyone else in the NFC seems to lose also, so it's likely 8-8 will earn someone a shot. Coach Jon Gruden said the Bucs aren't thinking as much about the playoffs as they are of getting to the .500 mark. "It's significant,'' Gruden said. "The most important thing is to get into the Super Bowl tournament and win it. That's the only significance. After that, what really matters?'' In a season in which the Bucs have been dead and buried, they've continued to rise from the grave. They played their best and most complete game of the season last Sunday, beating NFC South division-leading Atlanta, 27-0, but the Falcons were the first team with a winning record the Bucs have beaten this year. San Diego is riding high at 9-3 and features arguably the NFL's best running back in LaDamien Tomlinson. Tomlinson can catch, run, and block, and San Diego quarterback Drew Brees is a lock for Comeback Player of the Year. The Bucs have been studying the Chargers closely all week and have a lot to think about as they fly west on Saturday, a day later than they would normally take a west coast flight. "They looked very impressive on film,'' linebacker Derrick Brooks, this week's NFC Player of the Week said. "Tomlinson is getting some tough yards for them. Brees makes some good decisions with the football and that defense just hustles. It kind of reminds me of us a little bit. They deserve to be where they are, so it's going to be a touch challenge for us, but we're looking forward to it.'' Quarterback Brian Griese knows the Bucs have struggled on the road and better correct that fast. "We are all well aware of that and we haven't played well enough on the road to win,'' Griese said. "That is not the way you want to be play tins league. There are things you want to concentrate on. You have to be able to communicate better.'' One interesting sidebar on the game is Keenan McCardell lining up on the opposite side of the ball. McCardell blasted Bucs management and held out until the sixth week of the season before forcing a trade to the Chargers. McCardell was the Bucs leading receiver in 2003 and his exit was very acrimonious.

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