The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went out and got themselves one helluva head coach last year. Jon Gruden, then coach of the Oakland Raiders, signed on board with the Bucs, giving up two first-round picks and two second-round picks along with $8 million as compensation to his former team just for jumping ship.
But oh how that move paid off for Tampa Bay.
All Jon Gruden did was lead the Bucs to their first ever World Championship in a demolition of his former team.
This year, things haven't been quite the same.
Oh, Warren Sapp is up to his old antics, and Mike Alstot is still running over helpless defensive backs, but for whatever reason, the Bucs just haven't found the same intensity of a year ago.
And that's why they sit at 3-3, including a heartbreaking loss to the Indianapolis Colts in one of the most exhilirating games ever played on Monday Night Football, and a 24-7 loss to the 49ers last weekend.
Meanwhile the Cowboys have been cruising along since their come from behind win over the New York Giants on Monday Night Football back in early September.
At 5-1, Dallas controls it's own destiny in the NFC East, and coming into Sunday's game, nothing could help bolster the confidence of this team and this organization, more than a convincing win against the defending Super Bowl champs.
"We know what those guys are capable of," said Joey Galloway. "It doesn't matter what they did last week or the week before, they are still the defending Superbowl champions, and we know that. We also know what a win for us on Sunday could do too."
And here's the thing. The Dallas Cowboys actually match up fairly well with one of the league's most feared teams.
The Bucs have always been known for their stingy defense, yet this year, the Cowboys actually own the top ranked defense in the National Football League, giving up the fewest first downs, the fewest yards, and the second fewest rushing yards on the year.
Tampa Bay is also a team that likes to play low scoring, defensive struggles against teams that can run the football. (even though we know that they've put up 30+ points on multiple occasions this year)
Low and behold, the Cowboys rank 8th in the NFL in rushing and have held three teams to under 10 points through the course of their first 6 games of the 2003 season.
Of course, those are the stats that we all like to look at on paper. There are many more factors that go into matching up two teams in a game as important as this one.
Momentum, coaching, turnovers, and special teams are three important factors in which generally go a long way in determining which team walks off the field a winner, and which team walks off a loser.
Tampa Bay has always been a dominating team in many of these areas. One fascinating stat released earlier this week shows that the Bucs have a streak of 47 consecutive games with a sack and a takeaway.
Of course, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone that can challenge Jon Gruden in the coaching ranks, except of course when it comes to Bill Parcells.
Jimmy Johnson perhaps said it best earlier this week when he was quote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram saying, "Coaching is now more important, I'd say, than it's probably ever been. When you put a Parcells into this mix, I'm not surprised good things happened. I am surprised it happened this soon. But Parcells is proving my point."
Certainly, the odds makers haven't really given the Cowboys the respect they may deserve. At the beginning of the week, I was surprised that Dallas was only listed as a touchdown underdog to the defending Super Bowl champions.
I've since altered my way of thinking.
The Cowboys are the team that is on a roll. The Cowboys have one of the best offensive and defensive squads in the league. And the Cowboys are a team coached by a living legend in Bill Parcells.
If anything, Sunday's contest in Tampa Bay will show us just how far this team has come in 2003. And don't be surprised to find out that it's awfully close to the top.
Bucs Are Very Beatable
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