Bucs News And Notes: Monday

December 24 – Can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally break its dreadful losing streak in cold weather games? They're going to have to if they're going to have any shot at securing a bye week in the playoffs. What exactly happened between some of the Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh players during pre-game warm-ups? Bucs fans will want to secure their NFC South Championship hats and T-shirts while supplies last. PewterReport.com has compiled a notebook with news and notes from One Buccaneer Place.

Tampa Bay is 0-21 in games played in temperatures below 40 degrees.

No, that's not a typo, it's a fact.

The Bucs will travel to Champaign, Illinois this Sunday to play the Bears in the regular season finale. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN and temperatures will certainly be below 40 degrees at kickoff.

"It's very important," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of winning on Sunday night. "It's very important that we not only win, but we want to play well. The most important things is winning. Obviously winning cold weather games has been a very elusive task for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and by God, I can't wait to play."

So, can the Bucs end its dreadful losing streak in cold weather? Well, they're going to have to if they want to have a chance of securing a bye week in the playoffs.

With its 17-7 loss to Pittsburgh last Monday night, Tampa Bay slipped from the No. 2 seed in the NFC to the No. 3 seed. If the playoffs started today, the Bucs would host a Wild Card playoff game. While the Bucs can't get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, they can still get the No. 2 seed by winning at Chicago and having 12-3 Green Bay lose next week at New York against the Jets.

Chicago has never been a kind place to play for Tampa Bay. The Bucs are just 4-19 against the Bears on the road. But Chicago is 4-11 on the season, including 3-4 at home. Tampa Bay is 5-2 on the road and this will be their first trip to Champaign, which is where Chicago has played its home games this season while its new stadium is being contrustructed.

"I've never had much problem with the cold," Gruden said. "I know statistically it's been against us in the media guide and it's been pointed out that we've basically never won in temperatures below certain degrees. But coming from Green Bay and Philadelphia, I like a little brisk change in the weather. And by God, I don't care where we play. We're going to throw our helmets on and come out and play to win. I'm confident that this team, this year's team, can find a way to get it done. Chicago won't make it easy. They beat the Jets who was playoff bound potentially two weeks ago at home. We know they're a team full of pride and they're well-coached."

The Bucs still have a chance to finish the 2002 regular season with a 12-4 record, which would be the best in franchise history. And if Green Bay loses to New York on Sunday, a win against the Bears would make the difference between Tampa Bay receiving a bye week and hosting a first-round playoff game.

"Who wouldn't be excited about going to Champaign, Illinois and playing?" Gruden asked. "You've got to be kidding me. It's going to be a great opportunity for us to win 12 games. We've never won 12 games in our existence here. We're playing for a lot and we want to beat the Chicago Bears and I know they want to beat us. If we're not ready to play we're going to be soundly defeated, I can honestly attest to that. We have too much pride in our locker room to go out there with any other cause or any other style of play. We're going to go out there and fasten it up and play."

Prior to the start of the Monday night's game in Raymond James Stadium, Bucs backup middle linebacker Nate Webster and Steelers linebacker Joey Porter got into a shoving match. Tampa Bay wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson had to help break up the confrontation. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp and running back Jerome Bettis also pushed and shoved after Sapp ran through the area where Pittsburgh held its pre-game warm-ups.

Gruden said he was looking into who started the two incidents and said that these types of things would not be tolerated.

"There's an investigation going on in terms of actually what happened," Gruden said. There are reports that we initiated it and there are reports that they initiated it. I think it's very important to eliminate any of that from the NFL, particularly from our franchise. You're not going to win any games with outside the line craziness. We're not going to have that here. But again, I don't want to put anybody on a guilty trip right now because it's still being looked into in terms of what did happen."

While Tampa Bay's offense didn't have a successful outing against Pittsburgh, its running game was actually pretty productive.

The Bucs averaged 5.3 yards per carry against the Steelers. Bucs fullback Mike Alstott averaged 5.6 yards per carry and running back Michael Pittman averaged 4.0 yards per carry. Tampa Bay rushed for a total of 74 yards on just 14 attempts against Pittsburgh. Four of those runs were quarterback scrambles. But the team had good reason to abandon the running game early. The Bucs fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter. But some think the team still had time to stick with what was working.

Does Gruden regret not being more patient with the running game?

"We tried to run the ball and we ran the ball with some success," said Gruden. "We had a couple of long runs, which favor the statistics. But when you are down 17-0, it is a three-possession game. You need to score three times and against a ball control team like Pittsburgh, given the field position we had, we needed to move the football and get something on the board. I try not to second guess myself publicly, but privately there always things that I could have done better with. But given the score of the game, we tried to do what needed to be done."

Tampa Bay may have lost to Pittsburgh on Monday night, but they're still the 2002 NFC South Division Champs!

Have you ordered your 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFC South Championship merchandise yet? Well, if you haven't, supplies are flying out of the doors at Buccaneer Heaven in Tampa. But the good news is there's still merchandise remaining.

Secure your Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2002 NFC South Championship Hat for just $20.99 by clicking on the link or by calling Buccaneer Heaven at 1-800-881-BUCS(2827).

You can also order your Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2002 NFC South Championship T-shirt by calling Buccaneer Heaven at 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) or by clicking on the link. The T-shirt is just $20.99.

The Championship hat and T-shirt have easily been the hottest selling items inside Buccaneer Heaven since they were made available last Sunday afternoon. Bucs fans should secure their Championship hats and T-shirts supplies run out.

*Note: Buccaneer Heaven will not be open for business on December 25, 2002.

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