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Sack roll net sRice NFC honor

By ROGER MILLS, DARRELL FRY
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 28, 2002

TAMPA -- With his teammates long gone, defensive end Simeon Rice remained at One Buc Place past 7 Wednesday night, nearly four hours after practice, working in the weight room and watching film. This explains a lot.

Wednesday, Rice was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for his performance over the past three games. In fact, Rice, who primarily plays right end, has two sacks in four consecutive games and nine in his past five.

"When they invented this defense the Gods of defense were thinking about me," said Rice, who leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks. "At this point, the sun is smiling on me. I understand that this is my 15 minutes (of fame). I'm exhausted. I'm running with this thing. I'm going to ride this thing until the wheels fall off and see how far it takes me."

Rice said he was humbled by the award and credits it to the play of his teammates but is focused on a bigger prize.

"Right now, I'm in the fight of my life," Rice said. "My honors are going to come, but I'm not like, 'Oooh, weee!' I work hard for these kind of things. But, there's a much bigger picture and it's about championships."

The seven-year pro, whose effort was a critical part of the Bucs going 3-0 in November, finished the month with 17 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass defensed. Sunday in New Orleans, Rice can set a single-season record with a fifth straight multiple-sack game.

Dating to last season, Rice has 19.5 sacks in 17 regular-season games. He had two against Philadelphia in last season's playoff game.

"This is the thing I've been doing my whole career," he said. "It's shining right now under a 9-2 light. It's a beautiful thing."

Asked why he was still at the facility that late, Rice responded: "I do what I do. I take pleasure in doing this. I don't want, in any area, there to be a slip-up. I don't want a banana peel around my game. I want to be known that I work, work, work."

BOOGER'S BACK: Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland practiced for the first time since breaking his right forearm against the Panthers on Oct. 27.

McFarland, whose return was targeted for around Dec. 15, said his forearm felt fine after the workout and said the next few days will indicate whether he plays Sunday in New Orleans.

McFarland said reports that he will start Sunday are premature. "Don't believe everything you hear," he said.

In the midst of his best season, McFarland said sitting out the past three games has been difficult, and he couldn't deny being eager to play in his home state of Louisiana.

"Things went okay and I'm trying to get out there and knock the rust off," McFarland said. "(Will I play?) That's the million-dollar question and we'll answer it later on in the week. ... X-rays have looked pretty good. So it's just a matter of waiting for the doctors and seeing what they say and going from there. I've got to have my hands to play."

Coach Jon Gruden said the team is excited about the possibility of McFarland's return but cautioned that no formal decision has been made.

"He needs to go out here and put his hands on the grass and get off blocks and play football a little bit and wake up (the next morning without pain) for a couple of days," Gruden said. "We'll get some feedback from the doctors and see if this is the right thing to do this week. If it is, he's playing. If it's not quite right, we'll wait to see how it is next week. We're going to be very smart here. ... I'm hopeful he's going to play."

KEYSHAWN CAUTION: Receiver Keyshawn Johnson, bothered by sore right ribs since the game against the Panthers two weeks ago, was limited in practice. Johnson, who has not missed a regular-season game to injury since his rookie season in 1996, is questionable but is expected to play.

"I would never bet against him," Gruden said. "I would assume that he would play, but he is legitimately sore and his movement is somewhat reduced. Hopefully, he comes around a little bit physically over the next few days."

OTHER INJURIES: Defensive end Ellis Wyms (right ankle sprain), running back Aaron Stecker (right hamstring strain), fullback Jameel Cook (left ankle sprain) and defensive end Corey Smith (left knee sprain) are questionable.

GIVING THANKS: It may be Thanksgiving Day around the country, but that means little for the Bucs. Aside from a slightly altered schedule to allow the players to get home early, the Bucs will have a complete practice session today.

But the spirit of the season wasn't lost.

"I'm thankful for life, for just being here," Rice said. "I'm thankful for many different things I can't put into words right now. In terms of just being able to give, like this week, I went out to the Cancer Center and helped those kids. That was inspirational to me. Being able to pass out turkeys to people that don't have them, for me, that's what I'm thankful for."


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