Division games start early
By RICK STROUD
Published September 17, 2006
It's going to get late early.
That might sound like something Yogi Berra would say, but it applies to the Bucs and the rest of the NFC South because of the division-intensive early-season matchups.
Tampa Bay's next three games are against division opponents beginning with today's showdown in Atlanta. Carolina, which lost to the Falcons at home in Week 1, visits the Bucs next week. Then after a bye, the Bucs play at New Orleans on Oct. 8.
It's in stark contrast to 2004, when 5 of 6 division games came in November or December, and 2005, when all six came in November or December.
"This is a little bit better, I think," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "(Last year), we didn't know where we stood until the very end of the season."
In some ways, if the Bucs had to lose a game at home, dropping one to an AFC team such as the Ravens was the way to go. After head-to-head results, division record and conference record, games against AFC teams rarely figure into the tiebreaker.
"It doesn't matter. We play them one at a time," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "This game is Atlanta, and then we'll move on from there. We don't take on our schedule all at once. Just take it one week at a time, one practice at a time. And that way, we'll give ourselves a chance.
"If you look around the first four weeks, most teams are playing within their division. And then we don't play again until later on. I guess the NFL is trying to set up big matchups down the stretch. So we just take them one at a time and just know that division games always count double. It's time to get our first win of the season."
By beating the Panthers, the Falcons already are playing with house money with a rare road division victory.
"You'd better be on it right off the get-go," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "This is a very good division with four very good teams. We all play each other very, very tough. And the games are usually tight, and they're physical. There's usually no room for error. I just think it increases the intensity level."
KEY STAT: The Bucs are 6-0 when Cadillac Williams rushes for 100 yards, including twice against the Falcons last season.
SCARY INJURY: Tight end/long snapper Dave Moore sustained a broken rib and collapsed lung covering a punt against the Ravens. He was hospitalized for several days and won't play again for at least several weeks. There's still a chance he could be placed on injured reserve, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.
That's a real shame because Moore needs just five games to tie tackle Paul Gruber's franchise record of 183.
"I hope he gets back as soon as he can," special teams coach Rich Bisaccia said. "He's a big part of our (special teams) and what we do; not only just snapping, but he's a leader for us. He's a guy the players look to and the guy I count on to make sure we're always in the right protection. He's got more preseason games than I have regular-season games."
SAFETY FIRST: Imagine what it is like to play Michael Vick if you're a safety. The last line of defense has to decide if the Falcons quarterback is going to throw, run or throw on the run. And unlike most quarterbacks, Vick can launch the ball 55 yards on the move.
"No receiver is ever out of his range," Bucs safety Will Allen said. "Never. And they all know it. That's why they all come up or if they're real deep, they come back for the ball. But he can get it there off his front foot, his back foot or whatever."
A year ago, Allen was injured and did not play against the Falcons in Atlanta. Backup Kalvin Pearson was pressed into service, and Vick passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns.
THREE WORDS: Covered Practice Field. Why in the name of $30-million didn't the Glazers decide to cover one of the three practice fields at their new facility?
Before Week 1, the Bucs moved their Thursday practice indoors to the lounge area of Raymond James Stadium. Last week, they were headed to Tropicana Field before moving the start of practice up several hours to beat the thunderstorms.
With the unrelenting heat and rainy weather, it would've served the Bucs to put an air-conditioned bubble over one of the fields.