Need to get ready for the game? Look no further than Bucsblitz.com's "Bucs Primer." Along with a game capsule, the Primer also provides links to all of Bucsblitz.com's coverage leading up to the game. So before the capsule, here's a look at our complete package of stories this week:
BucsBlitz.com's Matthew Postins will update readers throughout Sunday's game on the main page at Bucsblitz.com.
Also, as a premium subscriber, you can now access Matthew Postins' appearances on the Scot Brantley show on WHBO 1470, the ESPN Radio affiliate in Tampa-St. Petersburg. Postins appears with Brantley, a former Buccaneers linebacker, on a weekly basis to talk about the Bucs. His last four appearances can be found in the audio section at Bucsblitz.com.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tony Boselli
PREDICTION: Bucs 21, Falcons 13 (Matthew Postins).
SERIES: 28th meeting. The Bucs lead the all-time series, 15-12, and have won nine of the last 13 games with the Falcons. However, Atlanta swept the Bucs last season. Many of those recent games have been high-scoring battles between quarterback Michael Vick and the Bucs defense. But Vick is no longer part of the equation as Tampa Bay faces the offense of Bobby Petrino for the first time Sunday.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bucs benefited greatly from their bye week physically, although some players have cautioned about being out of rhythm following the break. The biggest concern is handling the Falcons' active front four. Given time, QB Jeff Garcia wants to target rookie CB Chris Houston and set up a few shots downfield to WR Joey Galloway, who will attract safety help over the top. ... Whether QB Joey Harrington starts or is replaced by Byron Leftwich, the Falcons will focus on the short passing game. While Tampa Bay will allow completions underneath, it focuses on taking away the deep pass, and Atlanta lacks reliable deep threats anyway. Look for a heavy dose of slants early on to soften the linebackers against the run.
KEY INJURIES: Bucs: DE Greg Spires (torn calf muscle) is out; RB Michael Pittman (ankle) is practicing and expected to share the load with Earnest Graham. Falcons: Leftwich (ankle) is practicing and will start if healthy.
FAST FACTS: Garcia has a 115.4 passer rating in three career starts against Atlanta. ... Falcons RB Warrick Dunn needs 58 rushing yards to become the 22nd player to reach 10,000 for his career.
--WR Ike Hilliard (calf) returned to practice Thursday on a full-time basis and will start against the Falcons Sunday.
--DE Patrick Chukwurah, who missed the last three games with a shoulder injury, returned to full practice Thursday and is expected to play Sunday against the Falcons.
--LB Quincy Black, who missed one game with a hamstring injury, returned to full practice Thursday and is expected to play a key role on special teams Sunday against the Falcons.
--WR Michael Clayton, who missed the last three games with an ankle sprain, was limited again in practice Thursday and is questionable for Sunday's game at Atlanta.
--RB Michael Pittman, who missed the last four games with an ankle sprain, was limited in practice Thursday but is expected to be utilized as a third down back against the Falcons. He is listed as questionable
--TE Alex Smith said he tried to return from an ankle injury too soon against the Cardinals two weeks ago. He was limited in practice Thursday but is expected to play Sunday against the Falcons. He is listed as probable.
--RB Earnest Graham has an ankle sprain and was limited in practice Thursday. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game but is expected to play.
--DE Greg Spires is expected to miss 2-3 more weeks with a torn left calf muscle.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The best matchup of the game Sunday will be Bucs receiver Joey Galloway against Atlanta defensive back DeAngelo Hall.
The Falcons shutdown corner rarely shuts up and has been known to get under the skin of some NFL receivers. Carolina's Steve Smith got the best of Hall earlier this season when he drew several personal foul penalties.
Galloway said he doesn't engage defensive backs in chatter.
"No. Never. Not now, anyhow," Galloway said. "When I was a little younger, maybe. And when I've gone against (Hall), there hasn't been any conversation whatsoever. I don't expect this year to be any different."
Bucs coach Jon Gruden considers Hall one of the best corners in the league.
"I think he's great, that's what I think," Gruden said. "He's a great player. He's a premier player in the league. And I'm impressed with his working comrade on the other wide, the rookie from Arkansas (Chris Houston). They've got a real good tandem going. Hall is a great player.
"Hall, he's not afraid of anybody. They have full-blitz and he's in bump-and-run coverage. It's Steve Smith one week ... He takes the best receiver on your team and covers him. Joey's got a great challenge."
Hall is not alone. Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy creates problems in the run game and the passing game because of his ability to line up anywhere on the field.
"He's a down-in-the-box guy and I try to stay away from those guys," Galloway said. "I'm hoping he is down in the box because that's one less guy in coverage. But I think when you look at their defense, you have to pay attention to them and you have to know where he's at, not just from a receiver's standpoint, but also from an offensive standpoint. You've got to locate him because he creates a lot of havoc."
Galloway was asked if the Falcons' secondary might be the best the Bucs have faced this year.
"I think the politically correct response is yes, every week the secondary you're playing against is better than the secondary you have faced all year long," Galloway said. "They're much better than anyone we've seen."
Byron Leftwich and Joey Harrington won't know who will start Sunday's game against visiting Tampa Bay until the last possible moment, coach Bobby Petrino said Thursday.
Leftwich went through his second day of practice since returning from right ankle surgery three weeks ago. That he went though the session splitting snaps with Harrington with the first-team offense signals that his ankle responded well to Wednesday's heavy practice load and that he could be healthy enough to take over.
Petrino said Leftwich was rusty but that was expected. Petrino said he wanted Leftwich to get in a heavy dose of work Thursday in order for him to regain his chops and for teammates to get used to Leftwich's cadence just in case he's ready to go.
Harrington also got in plenty of work, but it appears more and more that his run as a starter is coming to an end.
On a side note, Petrino tried to clarify the communication glitch that left Harrington blindsided at a news conference Wednesday when he was asked about possibly losing his starting job as soon as the Tampa Bay game.
"What we told Joey is he needs to prepare like he always does this week in practice because we don't know who is going to start," Petrino said. "It was a normal preparation for him. Prepare as if you're going to be the starter and let's see what the week brings."
Harrington said Wednesday that he was under the impression that the starting job was his and that he'd earned it by helping Atlanta win its past two games, the latter in which he threw a game-winning touchdown in the final 20 seconds. Harrington added that he doesn't agree with Petrino's decision to possibly pull him.