And Now, The Eagles

October 16 - Sandy Penner takes a look at Tampa Bay's upcoming game at Philadelphia in this installment of his weekly column.

Do you ever think to yourself what if? It's a fun game when played in regular life but made even more enthralling when doing it with sports. You can go back and look at little plays here and there and see how they've changed fortunes of teams entire seasons. Try it with the Bucs and ask a couple of what if's and see where it takes you.

For example, what if the Redskins hadn't frittered away a 13-0 lead and then botched a potential game winning field goal in the 1999 playoffs against the Bucs. Well, for one, Tony Dungy would have had zero playoff wins as head coach and likely would've been canned after the 2000 debacle against Philly. That means no Jon Gruden for the Bucs and we have no idea where we would be today. How about this one? Say the correct call had been made on the Bert Emanuel catch against the Rams. The Bucs score, win the game and go on to the Super Bowl. Because of that, Tony Dungy gets a near lifetime pass and even with two flameouts in 2000 and 2001, he's still the head coach of this football team. Get a load of this one. Flashback to last years Pats-Raiders snowfest and the controversial Tom Brady tuck call. If the call is not reversed, the Raiders win the game. They then go to Pittsburgh and likely beat the Steelers for the AFC crown. Gruden gets a new deal and he's not calling Tampa home.

If you want to take it a step further, what if Jon Gruden had stuck around Philly for the 1998 season instead of jetting out to Oakland to work for Al Davis? Chuckie would have had to sit through the torture of a 3-13 Iggle season, but undoubtedly would have got the head coaching job after Ray Rhodes exploded. If not for just a few minor kinks we could be looking at Bucs-Eagles Sunday with Gruden patrolling the Philly sideline and Andy Reid as the Bucs first year coach. Ah, the what if's.

Anyway, I'm sure Coach Gruden didn't see the Bucs get turned into Cheese Whiz in last year's playoff game. After all, he was getting his Raiders ready to play the Jets in an AFC Wild Card game. If he had watched, he would've seen a Tampa team that didn't matchup very well with the Eagles and eventually quit on Tony Dungy. But, that was last year and this is this year. The Bucs matchup a lot better against Philadelphia this year because of the defenses health and the improved play of the offensive line. Here are your three key matchups and if the Bucs control them, there's no reason to believe they can't go on the road and win.

1. John Lynch vs Chad Lewis: This is really the Bucs defense against Lewis, but something tells me Lynch will be getting familiar with the Eagles tight end. Lewis is Donovan Mcnabb's favorite middle of the field target. If Ronde Barber can shut down James Thrash, then Lewis becomes Mcnabb's go to guy, mostly on third down and definitely in the red zone.

2. Brad Johnson vs the Eagles blitz: Again, this is really the Bucs offensive unit against the blitz but quick reads by a QB are what's necessary. Philly has not been blitzing a tremendous amount this year but with a week off to firm up their game plan, chances are defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will have some different schemes. Having Keenan McCardell as the hot read makes life a lot easier for Johnson and takes the pressure off of the Bucs RB's and TE's to be on the spot blockers.

3. Martin Gramatica vs David Akers: Yes, I've taken my medication this morning. I'm OK. I used kickers and key matchup in the same sentence. Akers is perhaps the leagues most accurate and best pressure kicker. Meanwhile, against the Brownies, Gramatica missed a FG, had one blocked and there was also a botched snap. Those mistakes are correctable, but in a game where points will be hard to come by, a FG could decide it.

Forget about the weather, it'll be mild. Forget about the crowd, they'll turn on the Eagles if they get behind early. Forget about the field, it's fine and both teams have to play on it. It's all about matchups and adjustments. Philly is entering a dangerous part of their schedule and needs the game much more than the Bucs. With that being said, it will be a committed Buc team that goes to the Vet on Sunday. Gruden took his Raiders into the Vet in Game 6 last year and thrashed Andy Reid's squad so he knows the blueprint on how to beat Philly.

Hey, what if the Eagles had listened to their jeering fans and taken Ricky Williams in the '99 draft? Then, Philly would have signed Brad Johnson as a free agent, then the Bucs would have acquired Steve Beuerlein, and........ never mind.


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