TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers players reported back to work from their bye Monday feeling rested and refreshed, ready to tackle the game plan for Kansas City that the coaching staff toiled over in their absence.
After a 1-3 start, Sunday’s 1 p.m. contest at Raymond James Stadium represents a solid opportunity for the Bucs to get their season back on track against the struggling, 1-4 Chiefs. And the bye week gives Tampa Bay extra time to prepare, since the team was able to start implementing its plan of attack Monday and can study at home on Tuesday, rather than begin the whole process Wednesday.
Any advantage will help, given the high stakes of this game.
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Kansas City may have only managed two field goals in its latest a loss, but the Chiefs defense held the visiting Baltimore Ravens to three field goals in a 9-6 decision. KC boasts the NFL’s 10th-ranked defense (compared with No. 27 for the Bucs) and played well enough to upset the high-powered New Orleans Saints 27-24 at the Super Dome on Sept. 23.
The Chiefs also feature one of the league’s premiere running backs in Jamaal Charles, who has come back from a serious knee injury last year to amass 551 yards on 102 carries (a 5.4-yard average) and two touchdowns through five games.
In the losing effort to the Ravens, Charles carried the ball 30 times for 140 yards, though that was nothing compared with his day against the Saints: 33 carries, 233 yards and a long gain of 91 yards for a score. (He also caught six passes for 55 yards).
All that said, the Chiefs still represent the best chance for Tampa Bay to regain its winning ways after three consecutive losses. And if the Bucs can’t get past struggling Kansas City, the going isn’t likely to get any easier with a home game Oct. 21 against the re-energized Saints and record-setting quarterback Drew Brees (who beat San Diego Sunday night 31-24 for their first win) and a road game to Minnesota (tied with Chicago at 4-1 atop the NFC North).
The season could spin out of control quickly without a win Sunday, which is no doubt why head coach Greg Schiano and his staff worked so hard on preparations through the bye week. It didn’t help matters that the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Washington Redskins 24-17, improving to 5-0 in the weak NFC South, well ahead of the next closest team — believe it or not, Tampa Bay.
“We evaluated a lot of things, and if your evaluations are correct and your adjustments are correct, then (the bye) helped,” Schiano said Monday afternoon at One Buc Place. “Without a doubt, giving some of the guys a rest (was good). From July 26 to last Thursday, they’ve been going pretty hard. Now we’ve got 12 straight weeks — 12 one-game seasons in a row.”
And the added preparation time can only help. “It’s one more day — actually two more days because you introduce the plan today and they’re off tomorrow but they’ll work and study on it,” Schiano said. “It’s two more days of exposure to Kansas City, which certainly shouldn’t hurt you.”
One of the areas Schiano is focusing on for Sunday is the right guard spot, which has been in some flux since the season-opening injury to Pro Bowler Davin Joseph. Tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who has lost his starting job to Demar Dotson, is being looked at as a candidate for the position. And at 6-8, 320 pounds, Trueblood certainly has the size and strength to fill the bill. He sat out practice Monday with a stomach bug but should be back on the field Wednesday after the team’s regular day off Tuesday.
“Everything happens a lot faster at that position,” said All-Pro guard Carl Nicks. “But he’s a big dude and a strong guy, so I think he’ll do well.”
Nicks, like all of his teammates, enjoyed having some time away from football. In his case, it also gave his sore toe some added time to heal.
“I feel a little recharged,” he said. “The rest definitely helped. I wish it was longer. But it’s good to be back to football.”
Where does he think the Bucs stand as a team, heading into their final 12 games?
“I don’t think we’re anywhere near our potential,” he said. “I mean, we have to finish better, start better and just be more consistent. Although we’re 1-3 and that’s not a good record to have, all the games have been close and it’s encouraging to know we can battle.”
The Bucs very likely won’t face Kansas City’s starting quarterback, Matt Cassel, who was knocked out of the game Sunday with a head injury in the fourth quarter after being slammed by Baltimore lineman Haloti Ngata. (Cassel, who completed a short pass to Charles on the play, was booed by Chiefs fans as he lay motionless on the turf, sparking a harsh response from Kansas City players and even Ngata.)
Head coach Romeo Crennel hasn’t ruled Cassel out for Sunday, but backup Brady Quinn, who completed all three of his passes in relief, is preparing for the Bucs. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s defense expects to have its hands full with Charles. Nobody on the team knows him better than nose tackle Roy Miller, who roomed with the fleet Chiefs running back when they played for the University of Texas.
“We’re pretty good friends — I’m going to try to hit him up for some of the game-plan this week,” Miller said, smiling. “I just looking forward to going out there and trying to contain (Number) 25.”
Miller spent some of his day off watching Charles run against the Ravens and was impressed as ever. “I had the opportunity to watch him in college and I’ve been able to see him over the years do the same thing he’s done — whether it’s practice or a game. He’s a special player. … It doesn’t surprise me that he’s bounced back. And he looks just as good as he did before.”
Miller knows that stopping Charles could be the key to stopping Kansas City.
“It’s one of those weeks where you have to tackle and everybody has to do their job,” he said. “He has a tendency to hit home runs. And if one person doesn’t contain him, the guy can cut it all the way back and (score).”
“With Jamaal Charles, they don’t try to run him up the middle much, they try to get him outside with his speed,” added defensive end Michael Bennett. “And at any time, he can break a long run.”
Bennett is glad to have gotten a chance to rest up — he spent the weekend at Disney World — before facing the next text. “I’m feeling refreshed and the whole team is feeling refreshed,” he said. “We got humbled a little bit in the first quarter of the season. It’s a long season, so we’re just trying to learn how to win those games at the end and try to be a good team.”
Schiano likes the way the team is pouring itself into improving.
“We’re 1-3 — we could be better, we could be worse but we are what we are,” he said. “I think we feel physically a little bit better right now after the break. It’s a group that’s really focused on what they need to do to get better. We talk about doing your job. I think everybody is focused on getting better at their job. And as a head coach, that’s really all you can ask for.”