Can't Take Saints for Granted

With home field berth on line, Bucs can't afford letdown

By Jeff Berlinicke

TAMPA – For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the last thing they need to be doing, according to coach Jon Gruden, is taking the New Orleans Saints for granted.

Yes, the Saints come in with a dismal record of 3-12, but they have obviously been stretched to a point never approached by any other NFL team. They are a team without a home and have traveled the country between Baton Rouge, La., San Antonio, and even played a ‘'home game'' against the New York Giants in New York.

The Saints are also playing for the life of their coach Jim Haslett. Haslett has been under pressure almost since the day he took the Saints job and nearly lost it halfway through the 2004 season before the Saints came on strong at the end. His team now faces questions with the future of its coach, their next hometown, and their starting quarterback, but it's still a talented team that has beaten the Bucs three straight times at Raymond James Stadium.

The Bucs enter the game with injuries to several starters for the first time this year, and they couldn't have come at a worse time. A win by the Bucs clinches the No. 3 spot in the NFC playoffs and a first-round home playoff game. A loss leaves the playoffs in doubt depending on several other scenarios. The Bucs lead in tiebreakers over Dallas and the Giants.

The key to a Bucs win is clearly the running game. The Saints defensive line is brutal, but stopping the run has been a problem. Cadillac Williams is seeking his seventh 100-yard game of the season, and it would clearly come in handy.

For the Saints to win, they have to establish the passing game. Bucs defensive back Jermaine Phillips is likely out for the game, but the Saints have had trouble with the passing game all season and starter Aaron Brooks was yanked two weeks ago and replaced by journeyman Todd Bouman who hasn't fared much better.

One thing in the Bucs favor is that the Saints appear to be playing out the string. The team finally had a meeting with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue earlier this week to discuss the odd situation they have faced all season and left the meeting disappointed according to reports.

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