Gameday: Bucs at Saints

Sunday's game between Tampa Bay and New Orleans is just hours away. Get ready for the game with Bucsblitz.com's "Bucs Primer," the most complete preview package for the Buccaneers on the Web each week (P-Denotes premium story that can only be accessed with a Bucsblitz.com subscription).

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:

Monday

Jon Gruden's Monday press conference (P).

Observation Deck: Bucs-Redskins review (P).

Postscripts: Bruce the backup plan.

Tuesday

Postscripts: Tuesday update

First Look: New Orleans Saints (P)

Film Session: Bucs vs. Redskins (P)

Press Pass: Bucs DC Monte Kiffin (P)

Quick hit: Monte's a must

The magic number is 10 (playoff math)

Wednesday

Postscripts: QBs are talking (Wednesday update)

Garcia still feeling pain, unsure of status

Jon Gruden's Wednesday post-practice transcript (P).

Thursday

Which QB do you choose if Garcia can't go?

Breaking down the backups (Scout.com's Tom Marino's analysis) (P).

The importance of a punter (Josh Bidwell's game vs. Washington) (P)

Behind Enemy Lines: Saints (P).

Postscripts: Thursday update.

Friday

Gauging Garcia's impact by the numbers (P)

Saints set for another make or break game (P).

Postscripts: Friday update

Saturday

Observation Deck: Bucs-Saints Preview (P).

Postscripts: Gruden faces tough choice.

BucsBlitz.com's Matthew Postins will update readers throughout Sunday's game on the main page at Bucsblitz.com. He'll file updates after every score and at the end of each quarter.

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 Tuesday between 3-6 p.m. to talk about the Bucs. His previous can be found in the audio section at Bucsblitz.com.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-6)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. EST

SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum

TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers

PREDICTION: Saints 17, Bucs 10 (Matthew Postins).

SERIES: 32nd meeting. Saints lead the series, 19-12. The Bucs posted their first-ever win against New Orleans in 1977. Since 1992, 12 of the 17 games between the Saints and Bucs have been decided by a touchdown or less. The Bucs are going for a series sweep and a three-game lead in the NFC South.

KEYS TO THE GAME: If QB Jeff Garcia can't go, it appears the Bucs will turn to Luke McCown instead of Bruce Gradkowski, who struggled last Sunday. Even if he plays, Garcia's all-important mobility will be significantly limited. McCown has good legs, and would be a better bet to attack the league's No. 27 pass defense than Gradkowski. The Bucs' running game stalled when Garcia went down last Sunday because Tampa faced a constant dose of run blitzes. ... The Saints have the league's fourth-ranked passing game, but they know they won't get far by constantly attacking Tampa Bay's stout secondary. The problem is they averaged just 2.9 yards per carry last weekend and rank 28th in the league in rushing overall. However, once inside the 20-yard line, no one is more efficient as the Saints have scored touchdowns on 26 of 35 (74.3 percent) red zone possession.

KEY INJURIES: Garcia (lower back bruise) could be a game-time decision; RB Michael Pittman (ankle) is not expected to play. Saints: RB Reggie Bush (bruised left shin) has been limited in practice but will play.

FAST FACTS: Bucs CB Ronde Barber set the franchise record with his 32nd career interception last Sunday. ... The Saints are 14-4 (.778) under coach Sean Payton when scoring at least 20 points.

PERSONNEL NEWS

BUCCANEERS

--QB Jeff Garcia practiced on Friday and is questionable.

--QB Luke McCown took the vast majority of reps with the first-team offense and may start if Garcia cannot play.

--QB Bruce Gradkowski, who went 9-of-19 for 100 yards in relief of Jeff Garcia against the Redskins, has fallen to No. 3 on the depth chart and is taking scout team reps.

--RB Michael Pittman has an ankle sprain but returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis. He is listed as questionable against the Saints.

--FB B. J, Askew missed the second straight day of practice with an ankle sprain and is questionable for Sunday's game at New Orleans.

--LB Barrett Ruud returned to full participation in practice Thursday despite a knee injury and will play against the Saints Sunday.

--DE Greg Spires was limited in practice Thursday and is questionable for Sunday's game at New Orleans.

SAINTS

--DT Brian Young practiced at full speed again Thursday and will be back in the starting lineup against the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday. Young missed the last four games after having his left knee scoped on Nov. 7.

--RB Reggie Bush, who bruised his left shin on Nov. 18, had full participation in practice Thursday and will likely to be ready to go for Sunday's matchup with the Bucs.

--RB Pierre Thomas, who came out of last Sunday's game at Carolina with a bruised kidney, did not practice on Thursday. Thomas had blood in his urine after practicing Wednesday, prompting the team's medical staff to hold him out Thursday. He is questionable.

--DT McKinley Boykin missed his second straight practice on Thursday with swelling in his left knee. He is questionable.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

BUCS

Jeff Garcia is showing some improvement as he practiced on a limited basis on Friday and is questionable for Sunday.

That gives Garcia a 50-50 chance of starting on Sunday.

"He is improving. He didn't really take many reps today (Thursday), but he does feel a lot better and we're excited about that," coach Jon Gruden said of Garcia.

Garcia was injured on the first play against the Redskins last Sunday when he was hit by defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin. The Bucs had hoped he could return this week, but Garcia has not been able to regain his mobility.

"I guess Brad Johnson had a similar thing happen to him a few years ago when he was here," Garcia said. "It's just one of those things. I haven't really ever had an injury like this before. I've had years ago a lower back problem that eventually alleviated itself and I got over it, but this is just something that was different.

"It's similar to what I guess a hip pointer would be but more so to the backside of my body instead of to the side or front of my body."

Johnson, who was injured with the Bucs in 2002, missed two games and needed a bye week before returning to quarterback the team to two playoff wins and a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Gruden will not commit to a starter if Garcia is unable to play, but every indication is it will be Luke McCown.

"We have a situation right now where we're looking at both of them," Gruden said. "I thought both guys did a pretty good job. We need the guys to pick it up and play great for us to win this game. But I was pleased for the most part, and now we've got to step up around them. Everybody has to elevate their game now."

Meanwhile, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who relieved Garcia against the Redskins, appears to have fallen to the No. 3 spot.

"You just kind of have to be prepared for everything," Gradkowski said. "You're never really going to be given a straight answer. You've just got to go with the flow and always be on the edge of your seat because when your time is called, that's really when you have to be able to get it done and make that opportunity happen."

SAINTS

If the Saints want to make a late push and get into the playoffs, they're going to have to do a better job of winning games in the Superdome. The problem is, that hasn't been so easy to do -- especially since Jim Haslett took over before the 2000 season.

Haslett posted just one winning season in the Superdome in the five seasons he coached in the building (they didn't play home games there in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina) and that came in 2003 when he went 5-3.

Haslett eventually finished his career with an 18-22 record in the Superdome, although he did win an NFC wild-card playoff game there in his first season.

Sean Payton is desperately trying to reverse that trend in his second season with the Saints. Going into Sunday's key home game with the Tampa Bay Bucs, the Saints are 2-3 this season and Payton is 6-7 in two seasons after losing seven of his last 10 at home.

Counting their home playoff wins in 2000 and '06, Haslett and Payton are a combined 26-29 in the Superdome. Starting with Sunday's game with the Bucs, the Saints have three chances to turn that around in December.

"It seems like we play very well on the road," said quarterback Drew Brees, who's led his team to a 9-5 road mark the last two years. "I don't know what our record is at home this year. But it's not where we want it to be."

"You look at it and we have played pretty well on the road and we have obviously not played as well at home," Payton said. "You try to address some concerns that might come up with home games. There's maybe a little bit more of a distraction because you do deal with a little bit more of the ticket issue, the visitors, the family and friends that are coming to visit.

"Those are things everyone has to deal with, including me. Hopefully down the stretch we can do a better job, and we have an opportunity to have a big advantage with the Superdome and our fan base, so this week the challenge is for us is to play our best game against a good football team who's in first place in our division."


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