For Bucs, A Lot On The Line

Injuries could play a factor as Bucs battle Saints for a home playoff game

By Jeff Berlinicke

TAMPA – With their second NFC South title on the line this weekend, the Bucs are faced with something they have been lucky to avoid all season.

Except for the season-ending injury to quarterback Brian Griese, the Bucs have had decent luck with injuries this year. The offensive line has started every game as a unit all season and there have been few other major problems. This weekend's regular season closer against the New Orleans Saints is a bit different. Wide receiver Michael Clayton is out with a foot injury. Ike Hilliard will take his place. Punt returner Mark Jones is a major question mark with a foot injury.

Defensive back Jermaine Phillips is doubtful. Tackle Kenyatta Walker is likely out, breaking up the offensive line for the first time all season.

That's five starters injured, but fortunately for the Bucs, they are at home against a team that has been on the road all season thanks to Hurricane Katrina. The Saints are a weary team that will be missing two starters from the offensive line. The Saints, though, with a 3-12 record, still play the Bucs tough, especially in their game in Baton Rouge only weeks ago when the Bucs struggled to put any kind of offense together.

The Bucs can clinch the No. 3 spot in the NFC playoffs with a win, meaning a home field game on Jan. 7 or 8. The Bucs could be sent on the road with a loss, depending on about a million different combinations. TO put it easily, the Bucs just need to win. That isn't always easy against the Saints, the only NFC South team to have won its last three regular season games in Tampa.

Coach Jon Gruden wasn't taking anything for granted at his Monday press conference.

"We've got injuries that have mounted,'' Gruden said. "That's the way it goes. New Orleans is a good talented team. Their won-loss record isn't what I expected it to be, but they've given us some difficult times in recent years.''

He also said that he expects the Bucs to know the stakes at hand.

"It's a big game. It's the last regular season game and I think everybody realizes what happens if you win and what happens if you lose.''

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