Tampa Bay has lost three consecutive contests to Philadelphia, including two playoff games at Veterans Stadium. The Bucs were outscored 51-12 in those two games and both of those losses ended Tampa Bay's last two seasons.
"They have been the nemesis of the Bucs the past couple of years," Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson said of the Eagles. "We have our hands full, but that doesn't really have to do with us this year. It's a new beginning, new game, new identity for us and the thing about them is they have a lot of players who have played in the same system a long time, under the same defense and they have a lot of pro-bowl players over there. They have a tremendous team and you can tell how they play together."
If Tampa Bay is going to be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they'll have to prove they can defeat Philadelphia, which is something they haven't been able to do since 1999.
"It's truly a big game for us, but you can't say (that it will measure the Bucs success)," said Tampa Bay nose tackle Anthony McFarland. "We have played some good teams. We have a five-game win streak and you have to be a good team to do things like that. We are on a mission to get somewhere and I think this is another bump in the road. And for us to get there we are going to have to climb over this bump and go up there and get a victory."
Tampa Bay and Philadelphia match-up well on paper. The Bucs are ranked 1st in the NFL in total defense (Run 2nd, Pass 4th). Philadelphia is ranked 3rd in the league in total defense (Run 6th, Pass 5th). On offense, Tampa Bay is ranked 20th (Run 22nd, Pass 15th). Philadelphia's offense is arguably the most balanced offense in the league and is ranked 4th (Run 6th, Pass 5th).
"It's a pretty even match-up," said McFarland. "They have two losses; we have one. We are going to their place, they are the No. 4 rated offense, as far as yardage per game, we're (No. 1) at defense. So this is a pretty even match-up and you could say you have the best against the best. It's been a while since we beat them. Anytime you get into a situation where a team ‘has your number' you always try to get back at them a little bit, and look forward to playing them to take that monkey off of your back. I think we are no different. But you have to keep it in perspective, this is 2002, not 2000 or 2001, you have to understand that we are a different team right now. And we need to go up there and play our game."
Tampa Bay's defense knows what they have to do to stop Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb, who leads the team in rushing yards (241) and average (7.7 yards per carry) and has thrown 11 touchdowns and three interceptions, but they weren't able to contain the Eagles' elusive quarterback in the two playoff contests. So what exactly can they do to stop McNabb on Sunday that they couldn't do before?
"We need to stop their weapons on offense, from a defensive standpoint," said Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks. "Contain (Donovan) McNabb, and eliminate the big plays, and tackle. That is something we haven't done every time we played these guys, they've broken a lot of tackles so we have to tackle better."
The consensus amongst the Bucs players is that Sunday's contest against the Eagles is the team's seventh game on their schedule and they need to win this game just as much as they needed victories over their previous six opponents. But don't think the Bucs don't still have a bad taste in their mouth from their three-straight losses to the Eagles.
"I would hate to deny that (those games) aren't on our minds," said Bucs strong safety John Lynch. "They ended our season the past two years, that's where we sat, at their locker room after (the losses). But we have a new head coach leading us, a whole bunch of new players and it's a new season. I think that's one of the things we have done best this year, is living in the moment, taking each game as it comes and really focusing on that. It has served us well and we will take that kind of attitude up to Philly this weekend."
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