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Success includes winning at home
By RICK STROUD, STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published December 30, 2005
TAMPA - Home is where the wins are for the Bucs.
With a victory over New Orleans Sunday, the Bucs would improve to 6-2 at Raymond James Stadium, the same record they had en route to a Super Bowl title in 2002.
It's also a far cry better than the 7-9 mark the Bucs compiled during the '03 and '04 seasons.
"We just want to put an emphasis on getting better, period," coach Jon Gruden said. "Obviously, teams that win in this league usually have a better record at home than they do on the road. So, yeah, it's been a point of emphasis. But at the same time, before you can win games at home, you've got to improve your football team. We have made some strides."
Gruden is right. Seven teams remain in the NFC playoff picture and six may finish with a home record of 6-2 or better. The exception is Carolina, which has lost consecutive games at home to Tampa Bay and Dallas to go 5-3.
Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice said he hopes the New Year's Day crowd will have a lot to celebrate Sunday.
HASLETT HAS-BEEN?: Jim Haslett may coach his last game for the Saints on Sunday.
Haslett, whose team is 3-12, did not paint a rosy picture of his future with the team during a conference call Thursday with Tampa Bay media, saying what happens is up to general manager Mickey Loomis and owner Tom Benson.
"I don't know what's going to happen, to be honest with you," Haslett said. "I just know this, under the circumstances, going back and forth, running around and playing 16 away games, I'm not really fired up about doing that again. I'd just like to have an opportunity to win games as a football coach. The situation that we were put in, or possibly could be put in next year, I don't know if that's an ideal situation for a coach."
BONUS BABY: It's been quite a holiday season for the Bidwells.
Last week, punter Josh Bidwell was named to his first Pro Bowl. Then there was the thrilling overtime win over Atlanta on Saturday. Then Christmas. On Wednesday, Bidwell's wife, Bethany, delivered the couple's first child, Brady John Bidwell, who weighed in at 7 pounds, 11 ounces.
"It was exactly what I wanted last night," Bidwell said. "Bethany did a fantastic job, she's doing great. (Bethany's) birthday was the 21st, Christmas, my little boy was born and we're going to the Pro Bowl."
A NICE CHANGE: This time last season, nose tackle Chris Hovan was languishing in Minnesota after being deactivated for the final two regular-season games and the playoffs.
This weekend he enters the final regular-season game as a force Tampa Bay will need in its potential postseason run.
"I felt when I came down here that I had to prove myself all over again," the sixth-year player out of Boston College said. "You either look at it as a challenge or you don't want to do it. I looked at it as a challenge in my life, an obstacle I had to get over, and I'm still standing now, which is pretty good."
The 6-foot-2, 296-pound Hovan has nearly doubled his production from last season. He has 44 total tackles to 20 last season. He has nearly matched his numbers from the past two seasons combined, when he had 47 total tackles. His career high came in 2002 when he was named second-team All-Pro with 52.
But more important, Hovan, 27, has been a disruptive force for offensive linemen, which has been key in stopping the run.
"I've taken every day I've had on this field and tried to make myself better," he said. "I've got another opportunity this week and hopefully beyond."
INJURY UPDATE: Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland (hamstring) returned to practice and is still listed as probable. There were no other changes in injury status. Tight end Anthony Becht (ankle), safety Jermaine Phillips (knee), receiver Mark Jones (foot) and offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker (ankle) remain questionable. Receiver Michael Clayton (turf toe) is out, possibly for the foreseeable future.