Friday, Sept. 28
It's a big game — can we get past that?
Hyperbole has no place in any pro football story written in September. So, for the entirety of this column, I'll strive to stay away from words like "huge," "monstrous," "gargantuan" or "season-altering."
Cleansed of clichés, I can say simply that Sunday's game between Carolina and Tampa Bay could set the Buccaneers up for something much more important down the line.
Division games take on the utmost importance in the eight-division format because a division title means a first-round home game. Plus, there are only six division games, as opposed to eight games in the old six-division system, allowing for less margin of error.
"This one definitely puts Carolina or Tampa in the driver's seat, with New Orleans and Atlanta being 0-3," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said on Wednesday, apparently not heeding my call for the elimination of clichés and hyperbole.
Fine, Chris. Have it your way. But the winner of Sunday's game is 3-1, with a one-game divisional lead as the first quarter of the season comes to a close.
"It's going to be a big game," Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips said.
Jermaine, "big" is in the "huge" category. Let's stay focused, shall we?
Set aside the surprise for a moment that Tampa Bay is even in this situation. Let's say the Buccaneers win on Sunday, which isn't a stretch. Tampa Bay would own that 3-1 record and that one-game lead. Plus, the softer part of their schedule is coming up.
Get past the Indianapolis game on Oct. 7 and the Buccaneers face a stretch of four straight winnable games – Tennessee, Detroit, Jacksonville and Arizona — before their bye. All but the Detroit game is at home. It is perhaps the most hospitable stretch of the Buccaneers' schedule. So you see what makes Sunday's game so, uh, what's the word?
"I can see how it can be a very big game, especially early in the season," Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia said.
Hyberbole, Jeff? Aren't you listening? It's too early for this game to be this —
Caught myself just in time.
This is a Buccaneers team that still has two games against Atlanta and another against New Orleans, a pair of winless teams in varying states of disrepair. The Saints look lost. Atlanta's Joey Harrington won't have weeks like he did against Carolina very often.
Sunday's game represents a natural progression for this team. They must prove they can win on the road, and do so against a team that has been the Darth Vader to their Obi-Wan Kenobi the past four years. The Panthers have won seven of the last eight meetings.
So it's an, uh, oh, I'll just say it — IT'S A HUMUGOUS, STUPENDOUS CONTEST WITH INCREDIBLE POSTSEASON RAMIFICATIONS!
Sorry, I've been holding that in.
What do you think, coach?
"I'm not going to make any more of it," Jon Gruden said. "They're not canceling the season and awarding you anything after the game, I know that."
Perspective? From Gruden? What are the chances?
Bucs on the Web
First off, check out our premium service "Press Pass," which brings you Q&As with Buccaneers players you can't get anywhere else. Catch up with quarterback Jeff Garcia with this Q&A from Wednesday's open locker room session. Plus, find out which players are good fantasy bets and which ones aren't in our exclusive Q&A Fantasy Bucs feature. Our picks are made by Chris Chancellor, who also offers his picks to the Houston Chronicle each week.
At the Tampa Tribune, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is preparing for what could be a benchmark game in his young career — going toe-to-toe with Carolina's Julius Peppers. Peppers has not had a sack in three games. I think Trueblood stands a better chance than some think against Peppers.
And Mike Cobb of the Lakeland Ledger writes that the fire is back in safety Jermaine Phillips after a difficult 2006.