Friday, Nov. 16
Final injury report, 6:34 p.m.
Here is the injury report for Friday — Bucs: Out — DE Greg Spires (calf); Questionable — FB B.J. Askew (ankle), LB Quincy Black (hamstring), DE Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder), WR Michael Clayton (ankle), RB Earnest Graham (ankle), RB Michael Pittman (ankle), T Jeremy Trueblood (shoulder); Probable — WR Ike Hilliard (calf), TE Alex Smith (ankle). Falcons: Doubtful — WR Joe Horn (hamstring); Probable — QB Byron Leftwich (ankle), DT Trey Lewis (shoulder), RB Jerious Norwood (ankle), T Todd Weiner (knee).
Falcons QB mess, 9:19 a.m.
If you ask me, Bobby Petrino is completely miscalculating by drawing out his quarterback situation this weekend.
He made it clear yesterday that he wouldn't make a decision between Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich until game time. Leftwich has been limited in practice all week. Harrington has led the Falcons to two straight wins.
If Petrino wants to commit to Leftwich the rest of this season, that's fine. He all but has by saying that Leftwich will start when he's healthy. But is he healthy enough to start? That's the rub.
If this is a big game on Sunday — and Petrino said it is — then it's incumbent on the coach to make sure his team is well prepared. I find it hard to believe the Falcons can be completely prepared for this game when they won't know which quarterback will start until after pre-game warm-ups. Petrino should do himself a favor and take the heat off by starting Harrington — and telling everyone on Friday that's what he's doing. It will give him — and his team — some peace of mind.
Falcons an intriguing team, 9:18 a.m.
And not because of Michael Vick. The combination of improved fourth-quarter play, an increased reliance on RB Warrick Dunn and a resurgent defense has the Falcons believing they can win their third in a row this weekend. Read more about why the Falcons are playing so well in my premium piece at Bucsblitz.com.
Lehr's comment, 9:16 a.m.
Matt Lehr did not comment to Tampa-area reporters regarding a Dallas-based report of his connection to a trainer who recently pleaded guilty in a steroids conspiracy. But his attorney did comment to a Dallas TV station. Read the text of the attorney's comment at cbs11tv.com.
You already like Jeff Garcia …, 9:13 a.m.
Here's another reason. The NFL has seen 52 starting quarterbacks already this season — and the Bucs have used only one. Find out just how lucky the Buccaneers are to have the durable Garcia in this article at Tampabay.com.
Line of contention, 9:11 a.m.
The defensive line has just 16 sacks through nine games and no one's sure what the problem is. Kevin Carter has a theory — a lack of continuity thanks to injuries and heavy rotation of players. Read more at TBO.com.
Watch on the web, 9:07 a.m.
You knew it would come to this at some point. Verizon has worked out a deal with the NFL Network to show their games on their computer. You have to be a Verizon subscriber and have a broadband connection, but it's a nice solution if you want to watch that Colts-Falcons game on Thanksgiving night and don't get NFLN (If you a Brighthouse Networks subscriber in the Tampa area, you don't). Eventually, I would have to think you could watch any NFL game over your computer for a fee. That's already the case in Europe. Read more at TBO.com.
This Penn isn't full yet, 9:05 a.m.
Left tackle Donald Penn said this will his toughest test since facing Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney in his first NFL start. The task? Slowing down Atlanta's top end, John Abraham. According to both Penn and offensive line coach Bill Muir, this emergency starter is making progress. Read Ira Kaufman's piece at TBO.com.
Thursday, Nov. 15
Injury update, 7:45 p.m.
It only took Bucs head coach Jon Gruden a few days to get tired of talking about injuries.
"It's as is, as the (injury) list says," Gruden said. "I'm really tired of talking about the injured guys. I'd rather talk about the guys we know are playing. Those are the guys we're going to count on to win the football game. These limited guys are limited guys, and hopefully we get some guys that can play at some point soon."
Well, coach, if you want to stop talking about it, I suggest you remove some of those players from the injury report. The Bucs did that today, as LB Quincy Black, DE Patrick Chukwurah and WR Ike Hilliard were upgraded and fully participated in practice, signaling they should be ready for Sunday. The Bucs also added FB B.J. Askew to the report with an ankle injury that I have to believe is pretty minor.
For the Falcons, it's looking more and more likely that WR Joe Horn won't play, as he sat out practice a second straight day. And TE Alge Crumper practiced in a limited fashion.
Here is the injury report for Thursday — Bucs: Did not participate in practice — DE Greg Spires (calf); Limited participation in practice — FB B.J. Askew (ankle), WR Michael Clayton (ankle), RB Earnest Graham (ankle), RB Michael Pittman (ankle), TE Alex Smith (ankle), T Jeremy Trueblood (shoulder); Full participation in practice — LB Quincy Black (hamstring), DE Patrick Chuwkurah (shoulder), WR Ike Hilliard (calf). Falcons: Did not participate in practice — WR Joe Horn (hamstring); Limited participation in practice — TE Alge Crumpler (team decision), QB Byron Leftwich (ankle), DT Trey Lewis (shoulder), RB Jerious Norwood (ankle), T Todd Weiner (knee).
To read Jon Gruden's entire Thursday press conference, click here to access this premium feature.
Talking with Keiwan, 7:42 p.m.
I had the chance to talk one-on-one with new cornerback Keiwan Ratliff on Wednesday and got the low down on the tryout process in the NFL. You'd be surprised at how short the workouts are. You can also find out why this Florida product is so happy to be in Tampa Bay in this premium "Press Pass" feature.
Pro Bowl voting continues, 3:48 p.m.
I just got done looking at the top vote-getters for the Pro Bowl, and there isn't a Buc among them. Not in the Top 10 overall, not in the Top 10 in the NFC and not among the leading vote-getters at each position. As you might expect, the Cowboys are dominating the voting. If the voting ended today, 10 Cowboys would be first-teamers based on fan voting. I think there are a few Bucs that definitely deserve consideration, including QB Jeff Garcia, MLB Barrett Ruud and SS Jermaine Phillips. But it's likely that any Buc that makes the Pro Bowl this year will make it as a backup.
Audio update, 11:42 a.m.
I've just uploaded my archived audio with WHBO-AM's Scot Brantley for the last two Tuesday. Each Tuesday I speak with Brantley on Tampa's ESPN radio affiliate about the Bucs. If you're a premium subscriber, you can access the last two appearances from Nov. 6 and Nov. 13 right now. It's a great way to get updated on the game. You can also listed to my appearances by tuning in to 1470 AM in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. every Tuesday.
At Bucsblitz.com, 9:30 a.m.
Two things you should take a look at if you're preparing for Sunday's game as a fan. First, the expected return of Michael Pittman should have an impact on the running game. But just how much of an impact? I try to explore that issue, along with how the running game has progressed during Pittman's absence, in this premium feature. Then, go behind enemy lines in Atlanta to find out why there's a quarterback quandary despite Joey Harrington's play. Plus get updated injury news, strategy and key matchups in our weekly "Behind Enemy Lines" series. Click here to read this premium feature. And if you missed it, here's what quarterback Jeff Garcia had to say about those pesky sore arm rumors Click here to read.
Mock Draft update, 8:47 a.m.
Scout.com's Chris Steuber has updated his 2008 NFL Mock Draft, dropping the Bucs three spots to No. 19. Find out who he thinks the Bucs will take now at profootballexperts.scout.com.
Rice back with Dungy, 8:45 a.m.
With Dwight Freeney out for the season, the Colts signed Simeon Rice earlier this week to replace him. Rice did nothing in his short time in Denver, and it's looking like the Bucs actually made the right choice releasing the veteran. Read more on Rice at KKTV.com.
Sources link Lehr to steroid case, 8:43 a.m.
Backup guard Matt Lehr has been linked to a steroid probe going on in North Texas involving a Plano, Texas, trainer. Lehr used to play for the Cowboys, and was suspended by the NFL for violation of its banned substance policy during his days in Atlanta. Read more at Dallasnews.com.
Gassed Graham, 8:40 a.m.
Earnest Graham could use some help, and he should get it this week with the return of Michael Pittman. Graham talks about his increased workload in this article at Tampabay.com.
Giving it up on the road, 8:39 a.m.
Looking for a reason why the Bucs are only a game ahead in the NFC South? Try their 1-3 road record and some ill-timed turnovers. Roy Cummings explores that issue at TBO.com.
Playing the speculation game, 8:37 a.m.
Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune explores two issues. First, he's wondering if the emergence of Derek Anderson in Cleveland may allow the Bucs to potentially acquire backup Brady Quinn in trade. Second, he's wondering why Jeff Garcia isn't involved in the MVP discussion. Find out what he has to say in this blog entry at TBO.com.
He's not there, 8:35 a.m.
It's beginning to hit everyone this week that Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick is no longer on the field. That could make the Falcons easier to defend. But it doesn't mean the deposed QB isn't on the mind of some Bucs, including linebacker Derrick Brooks. The Tampa Tribune's Martin Fennelly explores that in this article at TBO.com.
Wednesday, Nov. 14
Injury update, 6:01 p.m.
Here is the injury report for Wednesday — Bucs: Did not participate in practice — DE Greg Spires (calf); Limited participation in practice — LB Quincy Black (hamstring), DE Patrick Chuwkurah (shoulder), WR Michael Clayton (ankle), WR Joey Galloway (team decision), RB Earnest Graham (ankle), WR Ike Hilliard (calf), RB Michael Pittman (ankle), TE Alex Smith (ankle), T Jeremy Trueblood (shoulder). Falcons: Did not participate in practice — WR Joe Horn (hamstring), T Todd Weiner (knee); Limited participation in practice — RB Warrick Dunn (team decision), QB Byron Leftwich (ankle), DT Trey Lewis (shoulder), RB Jerious Norwood (ankle).
Gruden wouldn't say if players like Pittman or Smith would play on Sunday, but I think their limited practice reps on Wednesday were probably out of caution. I think you'll see the majority of players move to full participation by the end of the week. I would be stunned if they didn't.
To read Jon Gruden's entire Wednesday press conference, click here to access this premium feature.
Harrington speaks, 2:35 p.m.
Atlanta quarterback Joey Harrington just told us that he doesn't know how the quarterback situation will play out this weekend. His head coach, Bobby Petrino, would not commit to a starting quarterback earlier today, even though Harrington has led the Falcons to two straight wins.
Byron Leftwich is expected to return from injury this week and may start on Sunday.
"It doesn't change how I will prepare for this game," Harrington said. "If that means prepare to be the starter, that's what I'll do. If it means being the backup, that's what I'll do."
Spires injury update, 12:10 p.m.
Just spoke to DE Greg Spires in the locker room. He's expected to miss at least two more games with his torn calf. He said he's on the treadmill and elliptical machines in the training room and hopes to be running next week. If the 4-to-5 week prognosis is accurate, Spires could be back in the lineup for the New Orleans game on Dec. 2. Also, RB Michael Pittman was in very good spirits in the locker room. He's a lock to play and I'll explore his impact later this week.
Falcons QB quandary, 10:51 a.m.
Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino just told the Tampa media that the quarterback situation for the Falcons will be based on who's healthy, which leads Petrino to think that Joey Harrington will start on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
"Right now you would have to say it's Joey," Petrino said. "We haven't seen Byron in practice yet so we'll just have to wait and see."
Leftwich injected the offense with some life three weeks ago in a loss to New Orleans before getting hurt and missing the last two games. He's expected to be available for Sunday's game in some capacity.
My NFC South predictions, 10:31 a.m.
Looking at the NFC right now, there are two clear picks to make the playoffs — Dallas and Green Bay. They're not lead-pipe locks, but they're close. I think Dallas is slightly better and will get the No. 1 seed. Green Bay will certainly get the No. 2 seed. I don't see either team collapsing.
I believe the Bucs have a solid chance to getting the No. 3 playoff seed if they do the following — win three of their remaining four divisional games and beat two of their three remaining games against Washington, Houston and San Francisco. Two of those are on the road.
That would give Tampa Bay a 10-6 record. I like their chances of being a No. 3 seed if they reach 10 wins because I think Seattle can win the NFC West with nine victories this year. The Bucs would need to finish with a better record than the NFC West champion, especially if it's Seattle, in order to get that No. 3 seed.
I think the No. 3 seed is important because I think the Bucs match up better with a No. 6 Wild Card team at home, rather than a No. 5 Wild Card team. Plus, I like Tampa Bay's chances against Green Bay better than Dallas in a Divisional playoff game. But we'll see. We still have seven weeks left.
But my playoff seeds right now? In order, it's Dallas, Green Bay, Seattle, Tampa Bay, the New York Giants and Arizona (yes, Arizona). The Lions will fade in the face of a brutal schedule and the Cardinals will be an unlikely surging team late this season thanks to a favorable schedule.
Leftwich or Harrington?, 10:28 a.m.
Here's a blog entry that will interest you. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is speculating that the Falcons may start Byron Leftwich this week, if he's healthy. Get the scoop in this blog entry at Tampabay.com. We'll be talking to Falcons coach Bobby Petrino later today.
Bucs don't feel sorry for themselves, 10:26 a.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 13
At Bucsblitz.com today, 9:37 a.m.
Today you can look ahead to 2008 by reading my new premium piece, the 2008 Buccaneers Salary Cap report. It details how much cap space the Bucs have next offseason, why it's that much and how the Bucs could potentially clear more. You can read more by clicking here. Also, read what defensive end Kevin Carter did his freshman year of high school (hint — it wasn't football) in this premium feature, "Going back to his roots." feature. The Bucs are off today, but later today I'll be handicapping the NFC South race, which is getting pretty tight. But the Bucs, I believe, have the upper hand. I'll tell you why later.
Gruden's time off, 9:33 a.m.
You'll be surprised to learn what Jon Gruden did during the bye (he didn't break down film every minute!). He actually spent time with family, and this article from the Orlando Sentinel frames Gruden's bye week activities against the recent travails of his former co-worker, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, and his sons. Here's the article at orlandosentinel.com.
Relief for Keiwan, 9:30 a.m.
Keiwan Ratliff, a former Florida Gators, is back in Florida after signing with the Bucs on Monday. Right now, he's just glad to have a job, according to Tampabay.com.
What, no proprioception?, 9:28 a.m.
Jeff Garcia has a sore throwing arm, which is stunning when you consider he's a quarterback(!). He used the bye week to rest the arm for the season's stretch run, according to Tampabay.com.
He's not giving in so easily, 9:27 a.m.
Jeremy Trueblood has been fined $15,000 for his actions late in last Sunday's game against Arizona. Now, he's said he's planning to appeal, according to TBO.com.
Monday, Nov. 12
Gruden can stay, for now, 12:22 p.m.
It's not the most ringing endorsement, but St. Pete Times columnist Gary Shelton writes that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has done enough to save his job — for now — in this article at Tampabay.com.
Trueblood fallout, 12:21 p.m.
The fallout from Jeremy Trueblood's tirade last Sunday against Arizona — a $15,000 fine, according to Tampabay.com.
Maybe their prayers were answered, 9:53 a.m.
If Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen spent the weekend praying to the football gods for a little help, they certainly got it.
Everything the Bucs could have asked to happen did.
New Orleans lost to St. Louis — the Rams' first win, by the way — halting the Saints' four-game winning streak and preventing them from becoming the first team in NFL history to win five straight games after losing their first four.
Carolina lost to Atlanta. Thanks to that and the New Orleans loss, the Bucs have a one-game cushion in the NFC South with seven games to play.
Detroit lost to Arizona. That's could be a valuable win for the Bucs, in terms of tiebreaking scenarios.
I'll explore this more on Tuesday, but the Bucs are now set up to win this division. They not only have a game on their chief rivals, but they have a division win each over their chief rivals and a two-game lead in terms of division games (the Bucs are 2-0; each of the rest of the teams has at least two division losses). Now they just have to go out and do it.
A busy week in the media, 9:45 a.m.
Just because the Bucs were off didn't mean they weren't a part of the media conversation this past week.
First, the Sporting News leaned on the Bucs heavily in their midseason football issue. TSN wrote that the Bucs are "ready to surge, thanks to a weak second-half schedule, Earnest Graham's inspiring play and Jeff Garcia's steadiness. Also, TSN named linebacker Barrett Ruud to the NFC side of their all-NFL team. They also named defensive end Gaines Adams a "Rookie on the Horizon," writing that "injuries have cleared room for this pass rusher to make an impact." And, finally, rookie safety Tanard Jackson got some love in their "Scouts View" segment, writing that he "brings versatility" to the secondary. I'd say he's a candidate for Defensive ROY at this point.
When I received my ESPN the Magazine on Friday, I found a blurb on Jon Gruden's use of the shotgun this season from footballoutsiders.com. The coach that never used the shotgun before this season is now using it the formation about one every four plays, which is the league average. And it's working. The Bucs are averaging 6.4 yards per play in the shotgun and just 5.5 yards per play when Garcia is under center.
And, this came from Fox Sports' broadcast of the Falcons-Panthers game on Sunday. Before last Sunday's games, Jeff Garcia had been knocked down 49 times in nine games, tied for second-most in the NFL. It may be a miracle that he's still upright.
Getting ready for retirement, 9:44 a.m.
Don't freak out — Joey Galloway is not retiring. But he is preparing for that eventuality, because a guy still has to make money, right? Find out how Galloway is investing locally to prepare for his golden years in this article at TBO.com.