Bucs News And Notes: Wednesday

November 13 – Is there a feud between Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Rich McKay? What do the Bucs need to do Sunday in order to make their mark in franchise history? How is Tampa Bay's defense preparing for Carolina quarterback Rodney Peete? PewterReport.com has compiled a notebook with the answers to these questions and more.

With a win against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will improve to 8-2 on the season, which would be its best start in franchise history.

The Bucs tied the best start in franchise history, which was held by the 1979 Bucs team, by recording its seventh win of the season against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. While this year's Bucs team would love to make history in Jon Gruden's first season as Tampa Bay's head coach, they realize Sunday's game is just one more hurdle between the Bucs and its ultimate goal.

"Of course you realize things like that – it's never been done around here and you like to accomplish things like that," said Bucs strong safety John Lynch. "But much more important is our overall goal and that will help us along the way in our overall pursuit of a championship."

While Tampa Bay is tied with New Orleans and San Francisco for the second best record in the NFC, they haven't received much attention and/or recognition due to the fact that the Bucs have only defeated one team (Atlanta) with a winning record this season.

The national media is skeptical of the Bucs' 7-2 mark, but believe it or not, most of Tampa Bay's players prefer not to be the center of attention.

"Nobody in here is skeptical," said McCardell. We'll let (the media) keep talking about that and being skeptical. We'll keep flying under the radar and the next thing you know we'll drop a big bomb on everybody. I don't want to go into the radar, we'll just keep flying under it and keep being successful and we'll be fine.

"We believe in the people in our locker room. We don't listen to any of the outside talk."

The Bucs will certainly prove those skeptics wrong or right in the next few weeks. Tampa Bay's next four opponents have a combined record of 23-12-1 and three of those teams have winning records.

There have been several reports recently that have suggested there might be a feud growing between Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Rich McKay.

Some have said Mckay, who had plenty of authority in the Tony Dungy era, has grown unhappy with his role in terms of the personnel decisions.

The reports have also suggested McKay, who signed a six-year contract extension last offseason, might want out if he's not going to be more involved, but the team's owners – the Glazers – wouldn't likely let McKay out of his new deal without some sort of compensation from a team interested in acquiring his services.

But before the speculation could pick up any more momentum, Gruden squashed those reports on Wednesday and deemed them erroneous.

"Well, I can't speak for everybody, but I certainly respect the people that work in the front office, Rich McKay included, and personally I'm a little tired of these questions because I seem to think we get along just fine," said Gruden. "We're working hard to try and improve our team and bring a championship to Tampa Bay. What is hearsay and what is gossip is for the National Inquirer."

Gruden acknowledged the fact that he and McKay have had some disagreements about the football team, but Tampa Bay's head coach said those differences of opinion remained in the best interest of the organization and were not newsworthy.

"When you have people that are driven to try and produce a winning football team, you're not going to agree on every issue," said Gruden. "I don't know of two men or a man and a woman that have. We work hard at our relationship and that's the bottom line. I respect what (the Bucs' front office) has done and I'm looking forward to getting on with our season."

Tampa Bay's defense held Carolina quarterback Randy Fasani to just 43 yards passing on Oct. 27, but they won't have the luxury of facing the Panthers' rookie quarterback this time around.

Carolina veteran QB Rodney Peete will start against Tampa Bay on Sunday. While the Panthers have lost six straight games, Peete has a 3-3 record as the team's starting quarterback. Needless to say, Tampa Bay's defense knows they won't have it as easy as they did a few weeks ago.

"Well Rodney is a veteran who has been around a long time and has been playing impressive football," said Lynch. "They are a 3-3 team with him in there. I think you turn on the film and it is evident that the guy is playing some good ball and he brings the best out of his team. He will be ready for the challenge. We barely snuck out of Carolina with a win last time. We had to play hard to do it and it was a great effort, but we certainly know that we need to bring our game this week and we will not take this team lightly at all."

Peete has completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 1,459 yards and he has tossed seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Those aren't the most impressive numbers in the world, but Peete has managed to move the chains for Carolina's offense this season.

"He's a guy that they move the pocket with," said Gruden. "They're a very good play-action team. If he can stride through his throws, the guy is an outstanding player. He threw for well over 300 yards (against New Orleans). This Carolina team is a very dangerous squad. They had Green Bay on the ropes, they had the Buccaneers on the ropes late in the fourth quarter, and they had to New Orleans – they had to go 95 yards inside of a minute to win that game and score a touchdown. Rodney gives them life, I think, gives them a proven, stable player at the quarterback position. And the guy's a winner. He's won every place he's been. He's a dangerous guy."

Carolina's defense has recorded a whopping 33 sacks this season, which is the most sacks recorded by a team in the National Football League. Tampa Bay has allowed 21 sacks this season and Carolina recorded six of those on Oct. 27.

The Panthers have been able to generate one of the most potent pass rushes in the league with the help of defensive ends (LDE) Julius Peppers and (RDE) Mike Rucker. Peppers, who is in his rookie year, has recorded 10 sacks this season, including two against Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker. Rucker has produced seven sacks this season.

Needless to say, Tampa Bay's offensive performance Sunday will be influenced heavily by the play of its offensive line.

"They have Peppers, who's got 10 sacks, Rucker's extremely hot and (DT Kris) Jenkins is generating a lot of pressure inside," Gruden said of Carolina's strong pass rush. "Peppers is really on the verge of becoming a household name in the NFL. He's impressive. They've got a lot of scheme and they're playing extremely well. We've still got to deal with a relentless pass rush. They do a lot of things to be creative with the blitz, trying to create physical one-on-ones."

Tampa Bay will wear its red jerseys for the first time at home on Sunday. The Buccaneers have sported its red jerseys just once this season and that was against Baltimore in Week 2.

There were a lot of black and blue bodies in both the Tampa Bay and Carolina locker rooms after the Bucs' 12-9 win over the Panthers a few weeks ago. Several Bucs players said that game was the most physically demanding and challenging contest they had played in all season.

But those types of statements shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, both teams have tremendous defenses. The Bucs have the No. 1 ranked defense in the league and the Panthers' defense in ranked No. 3 overall. Both of those units pride themselves on dominating opposing offenses and that's what they'll both attempt to do Sunday.

"It was a very physical, an extremely hard fought football game," said Lynch. "We have a lot of respect for their team. It was a great battle in all phases, and we are expecting that again."

Can fans expect to see such a physical game of football this time around?

"They are going to be amped up," Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice said about Carolina. "They are ready to show what they have. Their defense is going to be playing at levels unknown and they want to outplay our defense. So it's understood and it's a rivalry brewing, we're going to have our hands full. I think our defense will set the tone on how the game will be played. It's about big hits. They want to earn a reputation, we have a reputation that we want to keep, and with that on the line, there are a lot of reputations on the line."


Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker on Tampa Bay's 7-2 record:

"I don't feel 7-2. I'd hate to be losing around here. But I guess you need that pressure. It's not a bad feeling, but I definitely don't feel 7-2. I feel like we've lost a couple of games. (Coach) Gruden keeps the pressure on you, and for a guy like me, I need it."

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