By The Sports Xchange
Coach Raheem Morris, in his first season as head coach in 2009, arrived with the team on Friday night, making it difficult to adjust to the five-hour time change.
The Bucs' Saturday afternoon walk-through at Wembley Stadium was cancelled due to bad weather and the team conducted its final practice in the cramped ballroom of their central London hotel.
The team was worse, too. Quarterback Josh Freeman made his NFL debut in the final minutes of the Bucs' 35-7 loss to the New England Patriots. In fact, Morris invited some scrutiny by telephoning general manager Mark Dominik to consult on whether Freeman should see his first action.
Contrast that with the Bucs' trip to London this year to play the Chicago Bears Sunday at 1 p.m. Tampa Bay, which is 4-2 and tied atop the NFC South with New Orleans, arrived Monday evening, gave the players the day off to sightsee on Tuesday and began practice on a converted pitch just a short walk from their opulent Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa, located in Surrey, 45 minutes from London.
The improved plan was not by accident. In addition to agreeing to take the team to London for the entire week, the Bucs were successful in asking for a game at Raymond James Stadium prior to their departure.
"I think it's been really good for our young football team," general manager Mark Dominik said. "It's almost been like a mini-training camp for us, kind of bringing the guys together, it's really tightened up the relationships as well as the facilities have worked out really well.
"There's a lot of advancing by members here, the NFL-UK getting us set up. It's been a tight ship here and really nice in terms of meeting space. The pitch. It's a small, three-minute walk. I think it's very convenient, the players have enjoyed it and I think the players have taken to it the right way. I think it has a training camp feel to it and I think when you play games like this, in this kind of environment with this kind of attention, I think it helps players prepare for different opportunities at different moments.
"We're 4-2 and have a long ways to go. I don't want to draw comparisons, but when we went out to Torrey Pines (for Super Bowl XXXVII), it kind of felt like this because you went to your own hotel, different locations, so it has that feel and I think when we get to eventually where we want to be, they can say they experienced the feel of this kind of a situation which is important to us in long-term building."
|Wes Welker (#83) of the New England Patriots is tackled by Ronde Barber (#20) of Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the NFL International Series match between New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 25, 2009 in London, England. This is the third occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)|
Dominik admits the Bucs' plan in '09 may have doomed them from the start, not that beating the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady would've been easy.
"It feels a little bit more of a time constraint crunch," Dominik said. "The weather played a factor in it. We missed a walk-through, it's hard to get to Wembley. You never felt you got to really come together as a team and prepare here. I think we're having that opportunity now. Again, this is as good as it gets in terms of weather. I hear it's thunderstorming in Tampa. We would've been missing a practice now because I don't know if we would've gotten to the Trop in time. Now we're here and we're actually preparing and we're playing on the surface too, which is important for our players, for the footing, because they remember the game a couple of years ago. It's slippery from what you expect it to be from Tampa grass. It's great they're getting an opportunity to practice with the right cleats on and everything."
It remains to be seen if the Bucs' plan will produce results on Sunday against Chicago, which took the other approach. The Bears arrive Friday.
Chicago comes into this game trailing both the unbeaten Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions.
When the Bears have been good, they've been very good. But quarterback Jay Cutler lacks protection and some front-line receivers.
Chicago plays a similar style as the Bucs and is willing to grind it out until the fourth quarter. Although their safety play has been below average at best, the goal is to keep the football in front of them playing the Tampa 2.