Gameday: Falcons at Bucs

Sunday's game between Tampa Bay and Atlanta 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).

Press Pass: Luke McCown (P).

Observation Deck: Bucs-Texans review (P).

Buccaneers Blog: Garcia will play on Sunday.

Tuesday

Buccaneers Blog: Stevens suspended

Film Session: Bucs vs. Texans (P)

Wednesday

Buccaneers Blog: Petrino's mess

Dunn says Petrino "classless."

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

Thursday

The importance of Ike (Hilliard) (P)

Thomas out to keep Falcons on right track.

Behind Enemy Lines: Falcons (P).

Buccaneers Blog: Looking ahead to 2008 schedule.

Jon Gruden's Thursday practice transcript (P).

Friday

White surges into spotlight (P)

Buccaneers Blog: Garcia ready to go

Observation Deck: Bucs-Falcons Preview (P).

Jon Gruden's Friday practice transcript (P).

Press Pass: Around the Locker Room (P).

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.

Atlanta Falcons (3-10) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST

SURFACE: Grass.

TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson

PREDICTION: Buccaneers 34, Falcons 14 (Matthew Postins).

SERIES: 29th regular-season meeting. Tampa Bay leads the series 16-12 after snapping a two-game losing streak earlier this season with a 31-7 victory in Atlanta. That Bucs victory was the first Falcons loss in their current four-game slide.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Interim coach Emmitt Thomas' first priority is to get the Falcons focused back on football following Bobby Petrino's controversial resignation Tuesday. With Hue Jackson calling the plays, expect Atlanta to give a much more concerted effort to get RBs Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood involved. A spike of enthusiasm from the change at the top is the Falcons' best hope for being competitive. ... Look for the Bucs to try to pounce quickly on an opponent in disarray. QB Jeff Garcia returns after missing two games with a bad back, and RB Earnest Graham has averaged 120.4 total yards the past seven games. That newfound balance should give Tampa Bay more than enough ammunition to keep Atlanta guessing defensively.

KEY INJURIES: WR Ike Hilliard (upper back) is probable and has practiced every day; RB Michael Pittman (ankle sprain) might play.

FAST FACTS: The Bucs are 5-1 at home, where their last four games have been decided by seven points or less. ... The Bucs clinch the NFC South with a win or a loss by New Orleans. ... The Falcons are 1-5 on the road and average 12.5 points away from home.

PERSONNEL NEWS

FALCONS

--CB DeAngelo Hall said now that Bobby Petrino is gone, he would like to remain with the Falcons. Hall has one year remaining on his contract but all signs pointed to him being traded in the offseason because of a rift with Petrino. He hopes to start contract extension talks this summer.

"I want to be here," Hall said. "Probably the lead guy who didn't want me here is gone so my chances to be here are looking pretty good. Losing isn't fun for anybody so there need to be some steps taken in the offseason to help us win. That will ultimately determine if I sign a long-term deal here. (Team owner) Arthur Blank knows that, (president and general manager) Rich McKay knows that. I feel like we're going to get the right people here and I feel like I'm going to be here."

--Petrino might not be the only staffer getting a college head coaching job. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson interviewed for Duke's head coaching position on Thursday. Jackson has never been a head coach and wants the opportunity. If things don't work at Duke, he said he hopes to get an interview for the Falcons' head coaching position. Jackson was bypassed for the interim position once Petrino was fired but he will call the plays for the final three games.

--QB Byron Leftwich, who backed up Chris Redman last week, has been demoted to No. 3 quarterback for the remainder of the season. Joey Harrington will back up Redman. Thomas said the depth charts have been set in a way to give the Falcons the best chance to win.

--Second-year FS Jimmy Williams is back in the mix. After being inactive the past two games, Williams will be the safety in nickel packages against Tampa Bay. Antoine Harris, who has been the nickel safety, is still recovering from a knee injury. Interim coach Emmitt Thomas, who is Williams' position coach, said Williams' play in the secondary had not been the problem but that his poor play on special teams led to his demotion. Thomas said he hopes the two-game benching got Williams' attention.

--WR Roddy White has been bothered by a knee injury but he is expected to return to practice Friday and be ready to start against the Bucs.

BUCS

--QB Jeff Garcia took every rep with the first team offense Thursday and will start against the Falcons after missing the last two games with a lower back contusion.

--WR Ike Hilliard returned to practice Thursday in a full capacity despite back, knee and ankle injuries. He is expected to play Sunday against the Falcons.

--LB Ryan Nece was limited in practice Thursday with a groin injury.

--FB B.J. Askew did not practice Thursday due to an ankle injury for the second straight day and could miss Sunday's game against the Falcons. He worked in a limited fashion on Friday and is listed as questionable. The Bucs signed FB Zack Crockett on Wednesday in case Askew can't play.

--RB Michael Pittman was limited in practice Thursday with an ankle injury and is questionable for Sunday's game against the Falcons.

--WR Michael Spurlock could handle the punt and kickoff return duties against the Falcons.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

FALCONS

The Falcons tried to move beyond the Michael Vick-Bobby Petrino drama that overwhelmed the franchise this week, but running back Warrick Dunn said players are still "numb," because of the emotional typhoon they've been through.

Dunn and several players said they feel players are more at ease and have galvanized some, but that it will be hard to tell how they will be able to maintain their mental energy against Tampa Bay Sunday. Well-liked and respected interim coach Emmitt Thomas said he thinks players will compete hard for the remaining coaches but,

"The main thing is to show us when the play," Thomas said. "That's the best way to do that. They've got to play well."

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will call plays, something that he has done before collegiately and with the Washington Redskins under Steve Spurrier. He said he plans to scale down the playbook and the number of plays in order to develop some form of identity and consistency.

Quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave will help develop the game plan.

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will continue to run the defense. Thomas will get the chance to manage the game, which is something he said he's excited to do.

As for the Falcons' coaching search, president and general manager Rich McKay and his staff have begun to put together a short list but the process will take time. Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher is expected to be contacted by the Falcons, as is San Francisco defensive assistant head coach Mike Singletary.

Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is another likely candidate. Jackson, Thomas and Zimmer are expected to get some consideration for the head job as well.

BUCS

Quarterback Jeff Garcia took every rep with the first team offense in practice Thursday and has pronounced himself ready to go for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

"I feel great, ready to go," Garcia said. "I feel healthy again. So, it'll be a good start today to be back on the field and just work all week and get ready for Sunday. I don't feel any discomfort, I don't feel any pain. I feel like everything is back to normal."

That's good news for the Bucs (8-5) heading into Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons and needing one victory to clinch the NFC South title.

Garcia has been the big reason for the Bucs' turnaround. In 11 games, he has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.

But after sustaining a back injury against the Redskins Nov. 25, Garcia was replaced by backup Luke McCown, who went 1-1 as a starter while passing for 579 yards against the Saints and Texans.

Garcia said he felt well enough to play last week at Houston but agreed with the decision not to rush him back.

"I think it was the right decision," Garcia said. "I think I could have gone out there (last) Sunday and probably played, I feel, at a high level and played without pain and discomfort. I would have been able to play and do the things I feel I'm capable. But from a preparation standpoint, I think (backup) Luke (McCown) was the better prepared going into the game."

It remains to be seen whether Garcia's mobility will be affected by his injury, but he insists adjusting to the speed of the game will be the biggest hurdle against the Falcons.

"The concepts I've run for years, so those are very natural to me," Garcia said. "This is a team that shows different looks so recognition is going to be the key. So I have to watch a lot of film, be on top of that. Just be ready to read and react at high level, at a fast pace, and that has to happen out here at practice. As much as you can't simulate an exact game type situation, for me, I need to play at a high level this whole week of practice and I need to get myself back to playing at full speed. And I think I can do that. There might be signs of shaking the rust off, but it's only been two weeks so I shouldn't be that bad and I've been in this situation before and I feel like I can overcome it based on my experience."

Quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett said Garcia performed in practice as if he had never left the huddle. He certainly has experience coming off the bench, having sustained injuries in Cleveland and Detroit before replacing Eagles starter Donovan McNabb at the midway point last season.

"You can't coach this stuff," Hackett said. "It's a guy knowing what he can and can't do. Where Jon has done a great job is deferring a lot to him. "How do you feel? Are you good with this? Are you okay with this?' That's what happens when you have a veteran like this and it's such a bonus for the team. That's why veteran quarterbacks do better than younger quarterbacks."


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