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Surprised Bucs start new plan

Packer loss means Giants-49ers winner visits RJS next weekend.

By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003


TAMPA -- Sxity-three years was what it took for one of pro football's greatest streaks to end.

Now the Bucs have to wait one more day to find out if they'll meet the 49ers or Giants when their postseason begins.

Tampa Bay coaches were stunned with the rest of the league when the Atlanta Falcons beat Green Bay 27-7 in an NFC wild-card game, becoming the first team to win a playoff game at the Packers' home.

Since its first postseason home game in 1939, Green Bay had played 13 postseason games at home and never lost. All that changed Saturday night.

By upsetting the NFC's No. 3 seed, the Falcons play at Philadelphia Saturday or Jan. 12 and the winner of today's Giants-49ers game travels to Raymond James Stadium next weekend.

"I would've thought that Green Bay, with the homefield advantage and the unbeaten record up there, would not have lost that way," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "That's why they play the game. Remember, it was Atlanta coached by Dan Reeves that went into Minnesota and beat the 15-1 Vikings to get to the Super Bowl. You knew he was not going to let his team be intimidated.

"We now turn our attention to (today's game). We had a solid plan during the week, spending the first two days working on the Giants and then two more days working on the 49ers. But now we really have to get to work."

Tampa Bay's coaching staff will gather at One Buc Place today to watch the game in San Francisco.

The Giants are one of the league's hottest teams, having won four straight, including a victory against Philadelphia last weekend to clinch a playoff spot.

"They're hot," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said of the Giants. "They've got a couple big-play guys on offense. They've got (defensive end) Michael Strahan, a couple good, solid corners and they're riding that emotional peak right now, which makes them dangerous. They have a great running back in Tiki Barber. He's really something."

The Niners have one of the league's best offenses, led by Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia and receiver Terrell Owens.

"In the 49ers, you've got a playmaker at quarterback in Jeff Garcia and probably the game's best receiver," Gruden said.

"The 49ers got beat up a little bit in the secondary, but they're starting to get some guys well. We played them (at Oakland) the last couple years. The biggest concern is going to be physically matching up with these people."

Kiffin said the Bucs defense is more familiar with playing the West Coast offensive style of the 49ers.

"The Giants are a totally different offense than the 49ers," Kiffin said. "They do the two tight-end set and don't spread it out too much. Theirs is much more of a power offense. As for the 49ers, that's a more traditional West Coast offense. Steve Mariucci and Coach Gruden come out of that West Coast school of thinking. And quite frankly, the 49ers and the Bucs offenses aren't too different. Our defense should be more comfortable with the 49ers' system considering it has faced a similar offense throughout training camp. There should be a little carryover."

Gruden and the Bucs entered their playoff bye weekend expecting to begin preparing for the Packers. After all, Green Bay was the only NFL team to go 8-0 at home this season and was 11-0 in Lambeau Field playoff games (the other two wins were in Milwaukee).

But the Falcons and sensational quarterback Michael Vick, who were swept by Tampa Bay during the regular season, earned their first playoff victory since 1998.

"(The Packers) were a 12-4 team, they were potentially the No. 1 seed in the NFL," Gruden said. "They were 12-3 going into the last game, so you might say well, they're the best team in the league."

A victory by New York at San Francisco today would pit Barber against twin brother and Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber. Another subplot would be the potential war of words between Strahan and Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

During the preseason, Sapp said an asterisk should be placed next to Strahan's NFL sack record from 2001 because it was a gift from Pakr quarterback Brett Favre in the final game of the regular season.

The Bucs would not face the sixth-seeded Falcons, their NFC South rival, unless both reach the NFC Championship Game, which would be at Raymond James Stadium.

-- Times staff writer Roger Mills contributed to this report.


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