By Jeff Berlinicke
TAMPA – As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepare for the most critical game since winning the 2003 Super Bowl, one thing if for certain in Sunday's crucial matchup with the Chicago Bears.
The offensive line has got to perform. The Bears defense is statistically better than the Super Bowl champions of 1985 and spent most of last week in the Carolina backfield in a huge win. Both teams enter the game at 7-3, so the game also has home field playoff implications.
The Bucs offensive line has been up and down all year, but has looked sharp since a total meltdown in a 34-14 loss at home to the Panthers on Nov. 6. Tackle Kenyatta Walker was called for false starts on three straight plays and it went downhill from there. Since then, things have gotten better and the Bucs have won two straight.
As the line has snapped out of its slump, so has the rest of the offense. Cadillac Williams broke his own personal slump and ran for more than 100 yards last week at Atlanta. First-year starters Dan Buenning, Sean Mahan, and Anthony Davis had ‘'leveled off'' according to coach Jon Gruden, but they were all sharp in last week's shootout.
In two losses to Carolina and San Francisco, the offensive line surrendered 10 sacks and the team rushed for only 77 yards. They haven't allowed a sack in the last two games and have been virtually penalty-free.
The Bears will be a different story altogether. The Redskins don't defend the pass well and the Falcons have little run defense. The Bears have plenty of both. Williams seems to be 100 percent and quarterback Chris Simms has had two big weeks in a row. He's also been able to take advantage of Michael Clayton who had trouble getting open early in the season.
Still, the line is the key, having to spring Williams and give Simms time in the pocket or it could be a long day for the Bucs.
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