Stopping Bucs' Bryant a key for Raiders

Stopping Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia from breaking containment and getting outside is one of the Raiders' biggest concerns heading into Sunday's season-finale. But Oakland also must find a way to shut down Bucs wide receiver Antonio Bryant, one of the NFL's hottest players over the past month.

In the last three weeks alone Bryant has caught 23 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns. That's more catches than any Oakland player other than tight end Zach Miller and running back Darren McFadden and more yards than all of the Raiders save for Miller, who has 744.

How well Oakland can defend Bryant will go a long way in determining who wins in Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Raiders are coming off one of their strongest defensive games in which they held Houston's Andre Johnson, the NFL's leading receiver at the time, to just two catches.

Interim head coach Tom Cable says it won't be up to Oakland's defensive backs so much as it will be up to the Raiders' defensive line to make the difference.

"The whole key to that is what we did to Houston's quarterback," Cable said Wednesday. "If you can disrupt him and hit him early and knock him around a little bit, and particularly with (Tampa Bay's Jeff) Garcia keep him in the pocket … if you can do those things I think you can have that kind of day. If you allow him to get out and move around and get out early it can be a long day."

It will help the Raiders that cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is expected to play. Asomugha injured his neck in the second half of last week's win over the Texans and has underwent a series of tests since. All of the tests have proven negative and Asomugha should be on the field Sunday but he was held out of practice on Wednesday as a precaution.

"He will be fine, it was just a little stiff today so we kept him out," Cable said. "He should (practice) tomorrow)."

Wide receiver Ronald Curry (turf toe) and linebacker Ricky Brown (groin) did not practice and both are unlikely to play. Cable said it's possible Curry might be placed on injured reserve later this week to open a roster spot up, which the team would likely fill by promoting someone from its practice squad.

· Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden, the head coach in Tampa Bay, says the game against his former team doesn't hold a lot of significant meaning other than it affecting the Bucs playoff hopes.

"There's been a lot of water going under the bridge," Gruden said on a conference call Wednesday. "There's been a lot of talk about the Kiffins, you know what I mean? Lane Kiffin, the former head coach of the Raiders, Monte Kiffin leaving here to go to Tennessee so there's people going to be talking about that I think moreso than when I was there. I had great experience there, we had a great group of players. We had some of the best players in football at that time. We just want to win a game and Oakland's certainly playing much better right now."

· Center Jake Grove was named winner of Ed Block Courage Award, handed out annually to one player from each NFL team who "exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage."

· Cable, whose own future with the Raiders is uncertain, says it's important the team make a push to keep punter Shane Lechler. Lechler is a free agent at season's end but Oakland is all but guaranteed to slap the franchise tag on cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, opening the door for Lechler to hit the free agent market where he'll assuredly be a hot commodity coming off his fourth selection to the Pro Bowl.

"To me he's as important as anybody on this football team, his role and what he's capable of doing," Cable said. "Whether you go three and out or you're backed up and can't get it off your own goal line, he can still change field position. If you move it out and punt on a short field he can really give you an advantage in terms of field position by pinning the team down inside there so I think he's very, very valuable."


SB Report Top Stories