Playing for Pride

Since last Sunday's home loss to the New Orleans Saints, several of the Bucs have sniped at coach Jon Gruden leaving observers to wonder if Gruden has lost control of his team. Several top players including Simeon Rice and Ronde Barber have leveled charges of a lack of discipline.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, it will mark the end of one of the most tumultuous weeks in franchise history.

Since last Sunday's home loss to the New Orleans Saints, several of the Bucs have sniped at coach Jon Gruden leaving observers to wonder if Gruden has lost control of his team. Several top players including Simeon Rice and Ronde Barber have leveled charges of a lack of discipline.

On Tuesday, Pro Bowl selections were announced and, for whatever reason, Rice was left off. Rice has had a checkered history in the Pro Bowl, having been ejected in each of the past two years, but he clearly had the numbers to earn a return trip.

Much of it amounts to the frustrations that plagued the Bucs since a fourth quarter meltdown against the Saints next week that virtually eliminates them from the playoff race. Although at 5-9, the Bucs have a mathematical chance, they would need a miracle since they lose out in almost all tiebreaker scenarios.

The Bucs may also be without Greg Spires, another defender who was overlooked for the Pro Bowl. He hasn't practice all week but is expected to play on Sunday.

Carolina has also struggled, but had won five of six before losing last weekend. They are in the drivers' seat for the final playoff spot, but need to beat the Bucs on Sunday.

Jake Delhomme has played nearly every down for the Panthers at quarterback this year, but is capable of throwing the interception. Nick Goings, a virtual unknown, has taken over the Carolina running game. On defense, the Panthers feature Julius Peppers, one of the best in the game.

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