Looking Ahead: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The New England Patriots' next opponent, the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, are significantly more dangerous than their last two, the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills. Winning -- even at home -- will be no easy task. New England may actually catch a break this week as Tampa is expected to be without one of their best defensive linemen, Anthony McFarland. For a banged-up Patriots offensive line, that's the good news. The bad news is Tampa Bay 's offense looks like they're getting better each week.

Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland may miss the final three games of the regular season with a hamstring injury.

McFarland was forced to leave Sunday's 20-10 victory at Carolina in the first quarter and unable to return. He underwent an MRI exam Monday and will be listed as doubtful for Saturday's game against the New England Patriots.

Safety Dexter Jackson was inactive for four games this season attempting to recover from a hamstring strain.

"We can only speculate," coach Jon Gruden said. "We are just going to list him as doubtful for this week. And we'll see how he responds to treatment. Some guys respond differently than others. So we'll cross our fingers."

In the three previous seasons, McFarland had missed 17 games, including playoffs.

A torn right triceps put him on injured reserve last year after eight games. McFarland's Super Bowl season in 2002 was marred by two significant injuries -- a fractured forearm and a broken foot -- forcing him to miss six regular-season games and all three in the postseason.

McFarland was unavailable for comment Monday, but his goal entering this season was to play in all 16 games.

Prior to the injury, McFarland was playing his best football of the season. In the previous four games, he had recorded 23 tackles and a sack.

Gruden said fifth-year pro Ellis Wyms likely would replace McFarland at under tackle in the starting lineup. Wyms had two tackles, a sack and forced a fumble Sunday at Carolina.

Rookie Anthony Bryant, who has not played in a game since Sept. 25 at Green Bay, will be active Saturday against the Patriots. Defensive end Dewayne White might see some action at the tackle position during passing downs.

"I don't know what we're going to do yet," Gruden said. "Most likely, (Wyms) will (start). He deserves to play. He's a good player. We'll probably get Anthony Bryant, our draft choice, up to give us some depth at nose. And Hovan's a guy who could play the other position, and Dewayne White in some isolated situations."

Gruden said the Bucs have no immediate plans to move nose tackle Chris Hovan to McFarland's spot. Hovan played under tackle for five seasons with the Vikings.

"No, we're not going to move him," Gruden said. "But when you get an injury, you've got to start to address contingency plans, and we'll do that."

With McFarland sidelined, Hovan made a bigger impact Sunday. He had five tackles against the Panthers, including two drive-ending stops.

"Yeah, he made a bunch of plays (Sunday)," Gruden said of Hovan. "He's a hard guy to block. He's relentless and he's big and he's mean as hell. He's a guy who we like and another guy who we hope to re-sign on our team at the end of this season. His charisma, his leadership, his work ethic is top-notch.

"Here's a guy who's been an under tackle at Minnesota, and his athleticism for a big man is exceptional, and his stamina is really good. Those are things that I think he adds to us."

NOTES

--There will be no icing the kicker, or any other Bucs player for that matter, Saturday against the New England Patriots.

The forecast in Foxboro, Mass., for kickoff is mostly sunny with a high of 38 degrees and a low of 28.

The Patriots beat the Bills 35-7 Sunday on a slick, snowy field at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. A mixture of rain and freezing rain is forecast for Friday in Massachusetts, but conditions are expected to improve rapidly.

The Bucs snapped their 21-game winless streak in games played in temperatures under 40 degrees on the final game of the 2002 season by beating the Chicago Bears 15-0 in Champaign, Ill. The temperature at kickoff in that game was 38 degrees.

"We've shaken the hex of not being able to win in sub-freezing temperatures," coach Jon Gruden said. "So we'll just try to do the best we can. We have a great equipment man back there, Tim Sain. He's going to fit us with the warmest gear possible. And that ought to be an afterthought. We're 9-4 playing the defending two-time world champions. You ought to play naked if you have to."

--The rock is back.

The 200-plus-pound granite-like block that became the emblem of the team's Super Bowl XXXVII victory reappeared in the locker room last week and made the trip to Carolina.

"Those are good memories," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "This is the time of year when you need to see something like that. We know the importance of it, and we believe in it and what it gets us. It's a good time to bring the rock out."

--Playing for the first time since straining a hamstring two weeks earlier, kicker Matt Bryant was perfect with field goals of 34 and 36 yards Sunday at Carolina.

"This was a big game, and I'd have killed myself sitting on the sideline," Bryant said.

PLAYER NEWS

--DT Anthony McFarland will be doubtful against the Patriots after suffering a hamstring strain in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Panthers.

--LB Marquis Cooper, who missed Sunday's game with a chest strain, is expected to return this week against the Patriots.

--WR Ike Hilliard is expected to receive more playing time after catching five passes for 32 yards against the Panthers, including three for first downs.

--WR Michael Clayton broke his string of two games with no catches with his 12-yard reception in the first half Sunday at Carolina.

--RB Cadillac Williams needs just 76 yards to reach the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the season.


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