Seattle Seahawks (8-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-13)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson, Chip Carter
2006 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 19th (13th rush, 20th pass); defense 21st (21st rush, 15th pass). Bucs: offense 29th (29th rush, 25th pass); defense 17th (17th rush, 18th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bucs' offense suddenly has little punch with veteran QB Tim Rattay able to spread the ball around through the air. WR Joey Galloway, a former first-round pick by Seattle, figures to attempt to exploit the Seahawks deep. Seattle lost last Sunday on poor coverage from SS Michael Boulware, and rookie CB Kelly Jennings will start with the team's top corner, Marcus Trufant, out. But with RB Carnell Williams appearing to be a long shot to play, the Seahawks can focus on helping the secondary. Seattle's offense continues to lack any rhythm. The line isn't blocking well and the receivers are dropping an alarming number of passes. The Seahawks desperately need a strong four-quarter showing to build some confidence heading into the playoffs.
Seahawks: Coach Mike Holmgren is 13-4 (.765) against Tampa Bay. ... QB Matt Hasselbeck is 8-3 with a 99.5 passer rating in his past 11 road games.
Bucs: CB Ronde Barber needs one interception to break a tie with Donnie Abraham (31) for the most in franchise history. ... LB Derrick Brook's six career interception returns for touchdowns is tied for the most in NFL history for a linebacker.
--C Robbie Tobeck (hip) missed practice again Thursday. He will not play Sunday.
--WR Darrell Jackson (toe) missed practice again Thursday. He remains doubtful on the injury report.
--DT Rocky Bernard practiced for a second consecutive day Thursday. He is expected to start Sunday despite a lingering foot injury.
--CB Marcus Trufant missed practice again Thursday. He has a high ankle sprain and will not play Sunday.
--CB Kelly Jennings will make his first NFL start Sunday at Tampa Bay. He'll have quite a few family members in attendance. This is Jennings' first game in Florida since leaving the University of Miami.
--DL Julian Jenkins (ankle) was downgraded to doubtful Thursday for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.
--TE Alex Smith (back) is doubtful for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.
--RB Cadillac Williams (foot) is listed as questionable for Sunday's game, but coach Jon Gruden said he does not expect Williams to play.
--CB Juran Bolden (quad) is questionable for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.
--DT Ellis Wyms (ankle) is questionable for Sunday's game against the Seahawks. DT Jon Bradley could start in his place.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Shaun Alexander seemed to run harder and more effectively last week than he has all season. He rushed for 140 yards during Seattle's last-minute loss to the Chargers. "I think for us it is always about playing with intensity," Alexander said. "I think that is one thing that we did last week better than we have all year; we played the whole game extremely focused."
Seattle's game at Tampa Bay on Sunday will test the team's ability to maintain its intensity. The Seahawks plan to play their starters, and coach Mike Holmgren said it's important for the team to win and play well. But Seattle can gain nothing tangible from a victory.
Alexander bulled through defenders against the Chargers, particularly on an 11-yard run on third-and-5 and during a 9-yard touchdown run. "There are always times where everybody is looking for somebody to raise their level of intensity, and I wanted that to be me," Alexander said. "It was definitely, by far, the best week I have had for my foot, for my neck, for my hands, for my arms, for my knees. ... For me, I just wanted to go out there and play.
"I figured guys would just jump on by watching."
Alexander missed six games with a foot injury earlier in the season. He needs 196 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the season. The injury affected how Alexander ran.
"When you are not at your best, all you can do is just play with all you've got," Alexander said. "Sometimes that is not as good as what everybody is used to seeing. Now I am feeling a little bit better and I am trying to just do what I can do."
Alexander could be running behind another combination up front. While Holmgren said he expects veteran right guard Chris Gray to start despite a thigh injury, Alexander sounded unsure. The team remains without veteran center Robbie Tobeck, a Pro Bowl choice last season. But Chris Spencer has shown improvement as he gets more experience.
"He is strong and faster, a better athlete, better looking, quieter," Alexander said, becoming the latest Seahawk to take friendly jabs at the wise-cracking Tobeck. "With all of that, you know, I would say, if Robbie made a mistake, which was far and few between, when he made a mistake, we all knew.
"If Chris makes a mistake, his athletic ability can catch up with it, and that is just a part of his game."
Chris Simms hasn't been told he is the starting quarterback for next season. He doesn't have to be. He says his two-year contract speaks for the Buccaneers. "They gave me a pretty good sum of money, and I think that shows they are committed to me in some way or form," said Simms, who could earn a maximum of $14.5 million under the terms of a contract loaded with incentives and escalator clauses.
Asked if the sum was "starter's money," Simms said: "Yeah, I think it's starter money. I'm not trying to put myself out there or put anybody else down. I believe that (coach) Jon Gruden and (general manager) Bruce Allen have made a commitment to me, telling me that they've got a lot of confidence in me."
That said, Simms says he knows that Gruden has a wandering eye when it comes to quarterbacks. And Tampa Bay has at least $30 million to spend under the salary cap.
"There is always going to be competition, and I'm sure the way (Gruden) is, he's going to try and sign every free agent quarterback that comes out this year," Simms said. "That's the way he is. I'm totally prepared for that, and I'm really not going to worry about it. I'm completely confident in my skills, and I'll just deal with that when the time comes."
Simms went 0-3 as a starter this season, throwing one touchdown pass and seven interceptions before suffering a ruptured spleen in a 26-24 loss to Carolina on Sept. 24. He was placed on injured reserve.
Despite the poor start, Simms says he believes Gruden's offense.
"I feel like it is the right system," Simms said. The media "can say all you want about the batted balls and the three-step drops, but those are things that have worked here for a long time in this offense. Will some of that have to change? We'll see. The plays are great. It's just that defenses have gotten better defending them."
Simms also said he didn't like the landscape for quarterbacks in free agency and didn't believe the grass was greener.
"I don't know if there are going to be a whole lot of (starting) positions open," Simms said. "Off the top of my head, there are a few, but some of (those teams) are going to draft quarterbacks and so on. Like I said, there were a lot more ifs as far as the free agency goes compared to here."