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Playoff Preview

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The Top Line

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2002

When they take the field around 4 p.m. today, the Bucs know they will be embarking on a journey never accomplished in the NFL: No team has won three road games en route to a Super Bowl appearance.

And while winning on the road appears to have been a common trend this season, the Bucs accept that such generosity disappears come playoff time, particularly in the NFC.

"That's the neat thing about the playoffs, there are 12 teams in it and they are all 0-0," coach Tony Dungy said. "Some teams have a little edge, having a bye and not having to play a game. But eventually, you're going to have to play a game and have to win them. It doesn't really matter what you did before, you're going to have to win your games. Baltimore proved that last year. Not a lot of people thought they could go to Tennessee and Oakland and win but they did because they were playing well and believed in themselves."

To win three road games, the Bucs not only will have to execute the game plan and limit turnovers, they also must exorcise two demons: their inability to win a playoff game on the road and their inability to win a game in temperatures of less than 40 degrees.

"We do (realize what's ahead), but that's where we are," Dungy said. "It's been difficult lately in the NFC to go on the road and win. In the AFC it has been done a little bit more. We have to zero in on what we have to do. History gives you some indications, but it doesn't predict the future. We know it's going to be difficult. It's an uphill battle. But our goal right now is to be the first ones to do it."

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

0 -- Road playoff wins in Bucs history.

3 -- Sacks given up by the Bucs in their past three games.

11 -- Offensive first downs for the Bucs in last season's playoff game.

28 -- Interceptions for the Bucs this season.

50 -- Rushing yards for Tampa Bay against the Eagles last season.

YOU AGAIN!

Okay, so the Bucs and Eagles played just six days ago with Philadelphia claiming a 17-13 win. But let's face it, with few starters in the game for more than a quarter, it doesn't count. The last time the teams met in a meaningful game was Dec. 31, 2000, at Veterans Stadium, and Philadelphia won that one too, 21-3. In that game, Donovan McNabb was 24-of-33 for 161 yards and two touchdowns and the Eagles held the Bucs to 199 total yards. Warrick Dunn was held to one yard on eight carries.

NOW THAT'S INTERESTING

Running back Warrick Dunn may have struggled running the ball, but he certainly had no problem catching it. Dunn, in his fifth season, finished with a career-high 68 receptions for 557 yards and three touchdowns. . . . Don't look now, but rookie cornerback Dwight Smith leads the Bucs with 22 special teams tackles. Running back Rabih Abdullah, who had led the team for the bulk of the season, is second with 21. . . . In case you missed it, cornerback Donnie Abraham finished the season with six interceptions despite losing his starting job to Brian Kelly six games into the season. Abraham, a Pro Bowl player last season with seven picks, now has 31 interceptions in six seasons. Kelly, by the way, has no interceptions this year.

THE BOTTOM LINE

"Linda came with that (Monday) morning, and I was like, "You're right!' Whenever I listen to her, I'm all right. Whichever way you want to twist it, it's fine. That sounds good to me." -- Pro Bowl safety John Lynch on his wife's take that it's hard for a team (i.e. Philadelphia) to beat a team (i.e. Tampa Bay) three times in a row.

-- Compiled by Roger Mills.

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