Gruden Faces Biggest Challenge Yet

Gruden has faced key regular season games, but none as big as Sunday's game against Redskins.

By Jeff Berlinicke

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepare for Sunday's showdown against the Washington Redskins (Gametime has been moved to 4:15 p.m.), a major question has to be asked.

Is this the biggest regular season game in coach Jon Gruden's career?

That's a lot to ask, but look at it this way: In his first season with the Bucs, he won the Super Bowl and coasted through the regular season. In Seasons Two and Three, the Bucs were dead in the water right out of the gate. Sure, the Bucs were in the playoff hunt until late in the season, but that was only because of the woeful state of the NFC.

This year things are different. The Bucs have little chance of winning the NFC Southeast with Atlanta and Carolina out in front already and showing no signs of letting down. Either the Falcons or Panthers should earn one of the NFC wildcard spots and the NFC East has several likely candidates for the other, including the Redskins who also have a lot at stake today. With the New York Giants out in front of the East, Dallas and Washington are the top candidates for the second wildcard spot.

That's what makes Sunday's game so important. A win over the Redskins knocks off one of their main rivals and also gives the Bucs incentive going into next week's game in Atlanta, only the Bucs' second division game of the season.

The Bucs enter the game mostly healthy except at wide receiver where Michael Clayton is a question mark entering the game. Ike Hilliard will start in his place regardless of Clayton's condition. It will be Hilliard's first start of the season and first start as a Buc.

Gruden also said not to expect a quick trigger on quarterback Chris Simms if he gets off to a slow start. Simms had an excellent first half in last Sunday's 34-14 home loss to Carolina before a breakdown on the first possession in the second half that led to a gut-breaking touchdown.

Luke McCown and Tim Rattay were both ready on the sidelines last Sunday but never warmed up as Gruden let Simms try to gain some confidence. He stated this week that this is Simms' team, at least for now.

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