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By ERNEST HOOPER and ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000
YBOR CITY -- Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa stood at a podium on the fourth floor of the historic Cuban Club on Tuesday, gestured at Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn, and said the Bucs stars would have to escort fans to the NFL Players Party the night of the Super Bowl because he would be too busy celebrating Baltimore's win over Tampa Bay.
Siragusa's comical bravado brought laughter from reporters attending a gathering to promote the NFL Players Association's three-day party scheduled for Jan. 26-28, the week of the Super Bowl.
But the play of former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer has Siragusa believing the Ravens can reach the championship game.
"Trent really has played the opposite role of everybody who's ever played with him told us how he would be," Siragusa said. "Trent came to the Ravens and accepted that he would be the second-team quarterback and waited for his opportunity. He really has been positive from Day One.
"Since he's been plugged into our offense, I think he's gotten better and better every week. It's really great as a defensive player to have a backup quarterback who has a lot of experience and been a starter in the league. Trent's really come in, and the team has really rallied around him."
Siragusa and former linebacker Kevin Greene were among the celebrities in town to help Players Inc., the union's marketing arm, generate publicity for its Super Bowl festivities. Fans will have a chance to mingle with players at events ranging from family autograph sessions to upscale parties.
The Ravens have won consecutive games and are 7-4, two games behind the AFC Central-leading Titans. They upset Tennessee 24-23 Sunday.
"I think we're on a roll now," Siragusa said. "Beating Tennessee in their place, being the only team to beat them in their stadium, our defense is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the league week in and week out ... . We stop the run and take a lot of pride in that, and our offense is starting to come around. We feel if we can score 14 or 17 points, we can be unstoppable."
PLAYOFF OUTLOOK: Even after Sunday's 20-15 victory over the Packers, the Bucs would miss the playoffs if they started this weekend.
At 6-4, the Bucs trail the Rams (8-2), Vikings (8-2), Saints (7-3), Giants (7-3) and Eagles (7-4). They have the same record as the Lions and the Redskins but would lose the tiebreaker to Washington because of an early loss to it.
"Last year, we (handled the grind) because not much was expected," coach Tony Dungy said. "We were down, and we kind of snuck in. And before anyone knew it, we'd won five in a row and were back in it. Now everybody says it's going to be the same way. "You can't look four games down the road or that we play St. Louis in five weeks. You have to win this week, and every game is pretty much a must win from here on out. It does become a mental grind, and not everyone can do that week in and week out at the highest level. And that's what we're going to have to do to win a division."
With so many teams likely to remain in contention for wild-card spots, the only way for the Bucs to guarantee a playoff spot is to win the Central Division. But they trail the Vikings by two games and don't play them again. The Bucs need help but don't plan on worrying about it.
"I know we can't win it if we don't keep winning," Dungy said. "If we're winning and playing good football, then we'll be fine at the end of the year, whether we win the division or not. If Minnesota loses five more and we lose five more, we won't be fine."
PROTECT AND SERVE: For the third time this season, the Bucs kept the opposing defense from sacking quarterback Shaun King. The Bucs have given up 14 sacks this season. The NFL average is 24.3.
The line has been particularly effective over the past three games, and King hasn't hesitated to throw the ball away or scramble upfield. "That's going to help you win a lot of games," Dungy said. "It's something we've put an emphasis on. I think Shaun has done a good job in terms of seeing the blitzes and getting rid of the ball. And when we've had to protect one on one, we've done pretty well."
WHAT'S WITH STECKER? After being active every game since the opener, kickoff returner Aaron Stecker was not in uniform Sunday because the Bucs wanted to keep a spot open for rookie fullback Charles Kirby.
"We wanted to get (Kirby) going," Dungy said. "We wanted to get another fullback in our big package. Charles has done a good job in practice, and I think he's going to be good in those situations for us."
With Stecker inactive, the kickoff duties fell to regular punt returner Karl Williams and receiver Reidel Anthony. They produced a combined 106 yards on five returns.
"Karl can do a good job on the kickoff returns and was close on a couple, and if we had blocked them a little crisper, maybe he had a shot," Dungy said.