The Bucs have a chance to change a lot of perceptions if they can upset New Orleans on Sunday at the Louisiana Superdome.
Winning back-to-back road games and toppling the 13-1 Saints would be a great barometer for where the team is headed under rookie head coach Raheem Morris.
"The fact of the matter is we have to go into their house at 1 o'clock (EST) and face the best offense in the league, the best coach ... blah, blah, blah," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "No one is giving us a chance and that's kind the way we like it. We like to have our backs against the wall and nobody giving us a chance. We always love playing these division games. There's something about it. There's something about these rivalry games that always get us going. There's no better environment, I feel, then going into the Superdome."
There's a legitimate reason why the Bucs believe they have a better chance against the NFL's highest-flying aerial attack than last Nov. 22 when they lost 38-7 to the Saints at Raymond James Stadium.
Since that game, Morris has taken over the defense from ousted coordinator Jim Bates and re-installed the Bucs' one-gap, Tampa 2 scheme. The Bucs ranked 31st in points allowed at the time Bates was forced out. During the past four weeks, they've been seventh.
"The old defense is out-dated and didn't work" Hovan said. "This defense is what it is, it's true. It's physical. It's violent, it's fast. It's Tampa 2. It's what this city has been raised on.
"You could just tell the swagger is coming back to this defense, the way we approach the game, the way we study, the way we take the field. There's a different swagger and it comes into play. ... We're not running the old defense against these guys, we're running the Tampa 2. We're about to find out how good we are. When we played them in the past and played this defense against them, we've been successful. Not to say that we're going to be successful, but we have a lot of confidence when we run this defense."
Linebacker Barrett Ruud said in their first meeting, the Saints were able to create favorable matchups by spreading the field with receivers and using bunch formations under Bates' system.
"They could get us into certain coverages," Ruud said. "This time it will be a little bit better for us so they shouldn't be able to do that this time."
What might not have helped the Bucs' chances Sunday is that the Saints lost their chance at a perfect season with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night. At 13-1, they still need one more win to lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
And after ripping off 13 straight wins to start the season, the Saints are used to getting every team's best shot.
"It's a challenge to be able to execute against a team that is going to come in and give its best performance," said Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma. "It's not even so much that they're going to do everything right. But they may do it a little bit harder. That's a challenge that we accept because we made ourselves undefeated. We won those games.
"It's flattering that you have teams that want to come out and be the one to knock you down."
The Saints have some flaws, particularly on defense. New Orleans ranks 22nd overall in total defense and is allowing 354.1 yards and 21.3 points per game.
Despite the Bucs' 2-12 record, center Jeff Faine admits there is something to be salvaged by finishing strong.
"It would definitely be a step in the right direction," Faine said. "I don't think it changes the perception of your team, but it's something that would be big. It'd be good for the confidence of a young team right now and it would lead into the off-season.
"I guess the question on that one is the game definitely means something. It's not like it's a meaningless game. It means something for us to build heading into the off-season. It means something to us. That's the question that's on the lips of everybody, but it means something to us. It means a lot."
--'Twas the night before Christmas.
Raheem Morris was summoned to Jon Gruden's office last Christmas Eve and informed he was going to be the Bucs' defensive coordinator in 2009, succeeding Monte Kiffin, who had decided to join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee.
But before Morris could fulfill that role, Gruden was fired on Jan. 16, 2009. Morris was introduced as the Bucs' new head coach the next day.
"(Gruden) told me (Christmas Eve). I came into his office and he let me know I would be defensive coordinator," Morris said. "I was fired up. We were kind of getting ready to let him do offense and me do defense and you start thinking about that stuff and processing it in your mind.
"Then the Denver (head coaching) interview came and messed everything up. You're thinking about becoming a head coach. Next thing you know, the whole franchise turned around and you're in charge of everything. So here we are after a learning curve."
Morris, 33, says he tries not to dwell on how his life has changed since becoming the NFL's youngest head coach.
"I try not to, but you have to," Morris said. "I can't hang out anymore. It's changed a lot. You've got a lot of responsibilities; you've got a lot of people counting on you. And that's what you've got to think about. You've got to worry about the people who are counting on you."
--Quarterback Josh Freeman had a horrific game against the Saints in the Bucs' first meeting. He threw three interceptions and was off-target most of the game. But he should be more prepared for the Saints the second time around.
"It's an advantage for both teams," Freeman said. "They've got to know us a little bit better playing us the first time. Obviously, we learned a lot more about them having played them. I definitely think it's going to be a better game than it was the last time."
--Micheal Spurlock was not surprised the Bucs called him. After all, he is the first player to return a kickoff for a TD in team history.
"It's ironic," Spurlock said. "You never know. Sometimes, you end up coming back to where you started or you come to the same place twice. It's just fun to be back to see familiar faces and just get to play ball."
BY THE NUMBERS: 60.1 -- Rookie QB Josh Freeman's passer rating. He has completed 53.5 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to give Sean Payton more credit than actually what defense he plays because he does the same thing to every defense." -- Bucs coach Raheem Morris.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bucs' attempt to upgrade their talent at receiver continued Wednesday when they claimed Mark Bradley off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs. To make room for Bradley, the Bucs released cornerback Brandon Anderson.
Bradley played in 13 games with six starts this season for the Chiefs, recording 24 receptions for 320 yards and two touchdowns. Those are more productive numbers than Michael Clayton, who has 14 catches for 204 yards and one touchdown.
Bradley originally entered the NFL as a second-round pick of the Chicago Bears (39th overall) in the 2005 draft. He played his first four seasons for the Bears.
--WR/KR Micheal Spurlock was signed as a free agent to replace WR/KR Sammie Stroughter, who was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot. Spurlock returned the first kickoff for a touchdown in franchise history in 2007.
--WR Antonio Bryant has a groin injury and was limited in practice Wednesday.
--WR Michael Clayton, who missed three games with a left MCL sprain, returned to practice on Wednesday and was limited.
--S Tanard Jackson has a knee injury and was limited in practice Wednesday. He did not finish the game at Seattle.
--TE Kellen Winslow (knee) was limited in practice Wednesday but is expected to play Sunday.