Buccaneers-Titans Preview

Matt Hasselbeck certainly has felt better than this at certain

points in his long career, but he still feels good enough to try

and keep the Tennessee Titans in the chase in the AFC South.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to make the most of this

opportunity or they could fall further back in the NFC South

race.

Proving himself able to start after suffering an arm injury last

week, Hasselbeck will try to rally the Titans on Sunday when the

Buccaneers try to snap a four-game losing streak.

Trailing division-leading Houston by 1 1/2 games, Tennessee

(5-5) lost more ground to the idle Texans and dropped into a pack

of four .500 teams in the conference with Sunday’s 23-17 loss at

Atlanta.

With the Titans down 23-3 late in the third quarter, Hasselbeck

left the game after banging his right elbow off a Falcons defender.

While rookie and eighth overall pick Jake Locker played well –

completing 9 of 19 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns –

Hasselbeck told Titans coach Mike Munchak he was ready to play and

proved it in a limited practice session Wednesday.

”We didn’t ask him to throw a lot of deep balls today. He’ll

start doing that tomorrow, just want to be cautious there,”

Munchak said. ”If it was up to us, we probably wouldn’t have

practiced him at all like we hadn’t the last few weeks just to rest

him in general and not necessarily because of the arm. He wanted

obviously to be out here and get some throws and do some

things.

”I think he feels good. It’s all about confidence. I don’t

think he has an awful lot of soreness.”

Hasselbeck did not address the media, but Nate Washington –

coming off his best game as a pro with nine receptions for 115

yards and two TDs – said the veteran signal-caller looked fine.

”He did everything he was supposed to,” Washington said.

”Made the reads when he was supposed to make them, made the checks

when he was supposed to make them. So he looked like Matt

Hasselbeck to me.”

Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris needs his team to be ready

Sunday, and for each of the next six weeks. Tampa Bay (4-6) has

dropped five of six and is three games behind South-leading New

Orleans and two back of the Falcons.

“We’ve got six more (games),” Morris said after Sunday’s 35-26

loss in Green Bay. . “… There’s still time to get hot. We can

still finish with the same record we had last year (10-6) if we get

our minds right, go out and play hard, fast, physical and

smart.”

Third-year quarterback Josh Freeman hasn’t had the most

impressive season – he’s already been picked off 15 times – but he

threw for a career-best 342 yards Sunday with two fourth-quarter TD

passes to help Tampa Bay rally from 14-0 down.

Freeman knows it’s going to take more of these types of efforts

for the Buccaneers to make a late-season push.

“You have to go out and approach every week from here on out as

a much-win situation,” he said. “You try to win them all, but right

now it’s very crucial that we go out and take advantage of every

opportunity.”

LeGarrette Blount has made the most of his chances since the

Titans cut him last September, supplanting Cadillac Williams as

Tampa Bay’s starter and running for 1,548 yards in 21 games.

“It looks like he is doing a great job for them and it ended up

being a great fit for him last year with them picking him up and

getting a chance to play and he has taken full advantage of it,”

Munchak said of Blount, who had a 54-yard TD and 107 rushing yards

Sunday.

Munchak wishes his backfield was that opportunistic. One of the

main reasons the Titans are averaging a league-low 77.3 rushing

yards is the play of Chris Johnson. The three-time Pro Bowler is

running for a career-low 3.2 yards per carry after being held to 13

on 12 rushes Sunday.

“You go back to the last game (a 30-3 road win over Carolina on

Nov. 13) and I got 130 (yards) and everything was good,” Johnson

said. “You come back to this game and nothing is working. It goes

back to the offense not executing, not being consistent.”

Munchak is looking for better offensive line play, but that unit

could be without right tackle David Stewart after he suffered a

calf injury Sunday.

Former Buccaneer Barrett Ruud has been ruled out of this game

due to a groin injury. Titans rookie linebacker Colin McCarthy, who

forced a fourth-quarter fumble against Atlanta, is expected to

replace Ruud as the starter.

The last time these teams met, Tampa Bay won 13-10 on Oct. 10,

2007, to snap a five-game skid to the Titans franchise.

The Buccaneers have lost both games in Tennessee – 33-13 in

their last visit on Dec. 23, 2003 – after going 0-4 when playing in

Houston.