Bucs News And Notes: Monday

December 30 – Bucs playoff tickets will go on sale this Friday. Quarterback Brad Johnson was upgraded to probable Monday and he will return to practice on Wednesday. Who will the Bucs play in its first playoff game, which is just under two weeks away? Is Jon Gruden thinking about implementing the shotgun formation into his offense during the team's bye week? PewterReport.com has compiled a notebook with the answers to these questions and more in this installment of Bucs News and Notes.

BUCS PLAYOFF TICKETS GO ON SALE FRIDAY:
Playoff tickets for Tampa Bay's NFC Divisional playoff game on the weekend of January 11-12 at Raymond James Stadium will go on sale on Friday, Jan. 3 at 10:00 a.m. ET.

The Bucs had announced last week that tickets would go on sale the Tuesday prior to any home game, but the team decided to move the date to this Friday in order to accommodate more Bucs fans.

Fans can purchase tickets at Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster charge by phone, or at Ticketmaster.com.

The possibility of the NFC Championship Game being played in Tampa on Sunday, January 19, also exists. If that occurs, tickets for that game will go on sale Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 10:00 a.m. ET.

BRAD'S BACK?:
Tampa Bay received great news after it defeated the Chicago Bears last Sunday night. The win along with Green Bay's loss to the New York Jets earlier in the day secured a first-round bye week in the playoffs for the Bucs.

On Monday, the Bucs received more good news when they upgraded starting quarterback Brad Johnson from questionable to probable for its playoff game, which is just under two weeks away.

Johnson suffered a lower back contusion against Detroit on December 15 and he's been sidelined ever since.

Not only will he likely play in the Divisional playoff contest at Raymond James Stadium, but the team is confident Johnson will return to practice on Wednesday.

Bucs backup QB Rob Johnson started in Brad Johnson's place last Sunday night against the Bears and although the team left Champaign, Illinois victorious, the offense failed to score a touchdown with Rob Johnson as the starter for the second time this season.

Brad Johnson has a 10-3 record as the Bucs' starting quarterback this season. He has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 3,049 yards and 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions. While Brad Johnson was sacked 21 times in 13 contests, Rob Johnson has been brought down 19 times in two starts and three abbreviated appearances.

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said Brad Johnson could have played against the Bears if they felt they needed him.

"(Brad) could have played last night had we asked him to," Gruden said on Monday morning. "He is not 100 percent. But he still, after talking to him and watching his pre-game warm-up, he could have played last night. He's improving. He's sore and he is going to be sore, probably for the rest of the season. But there was no thought whatsoever of leaving him behind (in Tampa).

"We needed to win that game. That game had serious ramifications, obviously, in terms of this year's playoff format. But with the lead that we had, with the conditions, the wind, we felt we were best suited leaving Rob in the game."

In other injury news, Tampa Bay had several players suffer minor injuries during Sunday's night's game.

"Aaron Stecker sprained his right ankle on the opening kickoff," Gruden said. "He'll be probable for the game, although he will be limited this week on the practice field. Simeon Rice got kicked in the lower leg and has a bruise. He will be probable also. Dwight Smith suffered a concussion last night and is also suffering from some left knee tendonitis. He will be probable and hopefully ready to go for Wednesday's practice."

QUITE AN ACCOMPLISHMENT:
Tampa Bay finished each of the four quarters of the season with a 3-1 record, which is why the 12-4 Bucs finished the season with its best record in franchise history.

But the Bucs have also shown the ability to bounce back from losses this season. The Pewter Pirates didn't lose consecutive games all season long, which impressed their head coach.

"Yes, it sure does (make me proud)," Gruden said. "We have a lot of resilient guys in our locker room. We have a great amount of pride and veteran leadership. To go through an entire season and not have back-to-back losses is a great accomplishment. It is a credit to our staff and our players."

DESPITE BYE, BUCS WILL BE BUSY THIS WEEK:
All of the talk leading up to last weekend was about whether or not Tampa Bay would be able to secure a bye week in the playoffs. So, now that they've got one, what exactly will they do with it?

"We just had a long staff meeting to organize ourselves, discipline ourselves, in the time span," Gruden said of the bye week on Monday. "Obviously we don't know when the game is, Saturday or Sunday, that will be determined (later in the week). We will use a day and a half to prepare for the New York Giants, a day and a half for the San Francisco 49ers, and we will use the latter part of the week to prepare for the Green Bay Packers. It is my understanding that there is no way we can play Atlanta, so we will prepare for the three opponents that we could play."

And of course, some of the Bucs players will reap the benefits of the bye week by getting healthy.

"We are going to get a little time off today and tomorrow," said Gruden. "Then we will get time off on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this week. The coaches, again, will use that time carefully to prepare for what we hope will be the best game plan for our upcoming opponent."

Needless to say, the bye week definitely beats having to play a first-round playoff game.

"The key to the bye is that you don't lose in the first round of the playoffs," Gruden said. "You survive until round two. That's the beauty of the bye. There are no guarantees. The home field advantage doesn't guarantee anything. The bye doesn't guarantee anything, but you do get a free win in the first round. You can't lose in the first round when you have a bye. We have the opportunity to get some of our players well, refine some areas of our football team that we need to improve upon, and that is what we are going to do this week."

PLAYOFF SCENARIOS:
As most Bucs fans already know by now, the Pewter Pirates have a bye week for the first-round of the playoffs, but one can't help but wonder who they'll play the following week in the NFC Divisional playoff game.

"I don't know," Gruden said when asked who he thought Tampa Bay would play first in the playoffs. "I try not to get into the schedule. We are going to prepare hard. We don't know if we are playing Saturday or Sunday, but we are going to have a great crowd and a lot of people."

As the No. 2 seed in the NFC, Tampa Bay will play the highest remaining seed from this weekend's playoff games, which means the Bucs will host the No. 5 New York Giants, the No. 4 San Francisco 49ers or the No. 3 Green Bay Packers.

While all three of those teams could be tough opponents, the Bucs might be rooting for the Packers for selfish reasons when they host the Falcons on Saturday night. If Green Bay wins that contest, they'll automatically play Tampa Bay the following weekend in the second round of the playoffs. Why would a Bucs-Packers match-up bode well for Tampa Bay? Well, the Packers are 0-5 against the Bucs in Raymond James Stadium and Tampa Bay downed Green Bay 21-7 at Ray-Jay earlier in the year.

Tampa Bay might also be pulling for New York to win in San Francisco since that scenario would put the Giants in Veterans Stadium the following weekend to play the Eagles, who lost in New York in both teams' regular season finales last Saturday. As Bucs fans know all too well, the Eagles have ousted the Bucs from the playoffs two straight years and if the Bucs could win against the Packers and the Giants could pull out a win in Philly, Tampa Bay would host New York in the NFC Championship Game.

While it's fun to speculate, Tampa Bay will simply prepare for the Giants, 49ers and Packers until its playoff opponent is determined this weekend.

"I really don't (care)," Gruden said when asked if he had a preference in terms of opponents. "I try not to predict who we are going to play," said Gruden. "We are just going to discipline ourselves, study, and spend a day-and-a-half on all three opponents. It has been proven in the NFL you just don't know."

BUCS HAPPY TO PUT AN END TO WOES IN COLD WEATHER:
After Tampa Bay's 15-0 against Chicago in 35-degree temperatures, the Bucs are now 1-21 all-time in temperatures below 40 degrees. Although they put an end to its dreadful losing streak, Gruden has a feeling his team hasn't been asked the last question about its woes in cold temperatures.

"That's great," Gruden said of winning in 35-degree temperatures on Sunday night. "We're 1-0 now. I'd like to say that we are undefeated in the cold weather. I know someone will say that we have never won a game below 20 degrees, or below 10, or below five. It's a great accomplishment to win six road games and win two of those with a backup quarterback. They weren't the most beautiful victories to the eye. We won in Carolina and we won in Chicago with our backup quarterback. I'm very excited about that."

BUCS LB BROOKS DEFENSIVE MVP OF THE YEAR?
Tampa Bay weakside linebacker has had more than a Pro Bowl season. He might be named NFL Defensive MVP of the Year.

Brooks is having what is arguably his best season as a pro, leading the NFL with three interception returns for touchdowns. His four touchdowns on turnovers tied him for second-most in a single season in NFL history.

Brooks also led the league's No. 1 ranked defense in tackles with 165 tackles and he also recorded career-highs in interceptions (5) and passes defensed (15).

So, will Brooks be named the NFL Defensive MVP of the Year? The Bucs think so.

"Derrick has had a tremendous season and is clearly the MVP of our defense, which has been the best in the NFL the entire year," said Gruden. "He is a great team leader and an outstanding football player.

"This is a great defensive team (and) I think Derrick Brooks is the Defensive MVP of this league. I would be shocked if he isn't named the Defensive MVP of the league."

BUCS S LYNCH ONE OF 32 NFL FINALISTS FOR 2002 WALTER PAYTON MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD:
On Monday, Tampa Bay Pro Bowl strong safety John Lynch was one of 32 NFL players selected for the 2002 Walter Payton Man of the Year, which is the only award that recognizes off-the-field community service as well as achievements on the football field.

Lynch and his wife, Linda, head up the John Lynch Foundation, which provides programs that assist and motivate student athletes.

"It is a tremendous honor and it represents a lot of people who have worked with me, including my wife, Linda, who is a part of everything that we do in the community," Lynch said. "Regardless of what we do for the community, we receive much more from the kids that we work closely with in the community. To be recognized for that is an honor that ranks up there with any accolade on the field that I have received."

One player from each of the 32 NFL teams has been selected as a finalist for the award annually since 1970. The 2002 Walter Payton Man of the Year winner will be announced by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue on Jan. 24 prior to Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, California.

QUOTES OF THE DAY:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the possibility of implementing the shotgun formation into his offense during the bye week:

"We might put that in over the weekend, honestly. We're always open for creative ideas."

Gruden on the Bucs finishing games in the fourth quarter:

"I study Tiger Woods carefully and have had the chance to follow him around and watch him play golf. The one thing that guy does is he makes some of the greatest pars ever. He doesn't make a lot of bogeys. He keeps himself in position to get under par and win the tournament. That's the way I look at our team. We manage to make some pars and find a way to stay in it. And with that I am very pleased."


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