Not only did Pittsburgh escape Raymond James Stadium with a 17-10 win over Tampa Bay last season, but the Steelers also rubbed it in.
Remember Lee Flowers? That name should sound familiar to Bucs fans. Pittsburgh's safety had some interesting things to say about the Buccaneers immediately after the Steelers downed the Pewter Pirates in Tampa last season.
"I'm tired of Tampa,'' Flowers said from his locker room inside Raymond James Stadium last season. "They talk so much. They go to the Pro Bowl because they talk so much. But they're paper champions. That's all they are and that's all they're ever going to be.''
Well, the 2001 Steelers turned out to be nothing more than "paper champions" themselves. Pittsburgh secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs last season just to be eliminated by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Do the Bucs players remember Flowers' comments? You bet. But they refuse to enter a war of words before this Monday night's game at Ray-Jay.
"They had a right to say what they had to say, because they won the football game," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said of Flowers' post-game comments. "We are not going to win a war of words. We are going to show up and do what we have to do on the field, and let it be settled then. I'm not a guy that does a lot of talking, or listens to what guys have to say. I just go out and play the game. That's the thing that matters the most anyway."
Flowers' comments will certainly serve as bulletin board material for the 11-3 Bucs as they prepare for the 8-5-1 Steelers, but Tampa Bay doesn't need those types of remarks to motivate them for Monday night's game. The Bucs will, after all, win the NFC South Division championship with a win against the Steelers.
"There are a lot of motivating factors for the game this week," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "It's December and you're playing football. The fact that we can clinch our division, the fact that it is Monday night, there are a lot of reasons to go out there and play a great game. It doesn't hurt that we are playing the Steelers either."
While he wasn't with Tampa Bay when Pittsburgh defeated the Bucs last season, wide receiver Keenan McCardell said he sensed his teammates had this game marked on their calendars since training camp. McCardell said the Bucs just need to let their play speak for them on Monday night.
"I sense (the team wants this game more because of last year)," said McCardell. "I wasn't here, but I heard about it. It was a shot around the league when Lee Flowers said what he said. But the only way to keep them from talking is by going out and beating them. We have them here on Monday night, nationwide. Two heavyweight contenders boxing, you have to go at it. It's going to be a slugfest, toe-to-toe, it's going to be back and forth. The only way to shut people up is go out and put it on them. You have to win, that's how you shut people up."
WHAT'S AT STAKE ON MONDAY NIGHT?:
Tampa Bay can accomplish quite a few things with a win against Pittsburgh on Monday night. Take a look at what will be at stake when the Bucs and Steelers clash Monday night at Ray-Jay.
The Bucs can…
…win the NFC South Division championship with a win or tie on Monday night or a loss or tie by the Saints (at Cincinnati on Sunday). Either one of these scenarios would guarantee the Bucs at least one home playoff game and its fourth division championship in franchise history.
…clinch a bye week with a win on Monday night and a Packers loss to Buffalo on Sunday.
…set a franchise record for wins in a regular season with 12.
…tie the franchise record for most wins at home in the regular season (7 – 1999).
So, if you thought the Bucs might have a problem getting up for its game against the Steelers, think again.
"We can clinch the division and become a step closer to securing home-field advantage, of some sort in the playoffs," said Brooks. "We need that coming down the stretch. These games in December are very important and they don't get much bigger than the one coming up this Monday."
MONDAY NIGHT MADNESS:
Tampa Bay is 6-4 in the regular season on Monday Night Football, including 5-1 at home.
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