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Tampa Bay tries to end Philadelphia's jinx

Posted: Friday, October 18, 2002

Jon Gruden has a chance Sunday to beat the team that helped end Tony Dungy's six-year tenure as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and brought Gruden from Oakland.

The Bucs play in Philadelphia, where they ended the last two seasons with playoff losses to the Eagles, 21-3 and 31-9. A day after the loss last January, Dungy was fired, immediately landing on his feet in Indianapolis.

''We'll look at the tapes of those two games,'' says Gruden, acquired for a pile of draft picks to replace Dungy after the Bucs pursued Bill Parcells and Steve Mariucci. ''We'll see how Philadelphia defended the Buccaneers offense. We'll see how we matched up and played against their offense.

''It will be a tool for us, but obviously we will look at this year's tapes also.''

What Gruden, offensive coordinator for the Eagles in the mid-'90s, will see in this year's tapes will be similar to two years ago, when Donovan McNabb carried the Eagles on both the ground and in the air. He has run for 241 yards on 33 carries, 12 more yards than Duce Staley has on 58.

Tampa Bay has won five in a row since an opening overtime loss to New Orleans and is tied with the Saints atop the NFC South.

The Eagles (3-2) were off last week and have a Monday night matchup next week against the division-rival Giants. The Eagles should win the NFC East rather easily.

But if they meet the Bucs again in the playoffs, they'd like it to be in Philadelphia, where it tends to get cold and blustery in the postseason. A win this week would be a big step toward that.

In other games Sunday, Chicago is at Detroit; Buffalo at Miami; Carolina at Atlanta; Minnesota at the New York Jets; Seattle at St. Louis; Denver at Kansas City; San Francisco at New Orleans; Jacksonville at Baltimore; Houston at Cleveland; San Diego at Oakland; Dallas at Arizona; and Washington at Green Bay.

Indianapolis is at Pittsburgh on Monday night.

New England, Cincinnati, the New York Giants and Tennessee are off.

San Francisco (4-1) at New Orleans (5-1)

San Francisco's tailback tandem of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow has combined for 591 yards rushing and three touchdowns, but faces the Saints' massive line, which consistently has plugged the middle against the run.

The Saints' running game has been almost totally Deuce McAllister, who leads the NFC with 582 yards and leads in total yards with 725.

When the Saints and 49ers played twice a season in the NFC West, San Francisco dominated the series 45-18-2.

San Diego (5-1) at Oakland (4-1)

Since 1985, coach Marty Schottenheimer's teams have dominated the Raiders with 19 wins in 24 games, the majority with Kansas City, which was a whopping 18-3 against the Raiders. San Diego's defense is ranked sixth, but must slow down a high-powered Oakland offense led by Rich Gannon, and could be without LB Junior Seau (ankle) and SS Rodney Harrison (groin).

Coming off their first loss, the Raiders bring the No. 3 rushing defense into the matchup with the second-ranked ground offense, led by LaDainian Tomlinson. Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson is recovering from a fractured right shoulder and is doubtful. Oakland is averaging 9.2 penalties for 91.6 yards.

Denver (4-2) at Kansas City (3-3)

This game is almost certain to be close: The last 13 meetings between these old rivals and 22 of the last 25 have been won by the team that scores last. That could bode well for a Chiefs offense that leads the NFL with 95 fourth-quarter points. The Chiefs have won five of the last six regular-season meetings, three in a row at home.

The key for the Broncos might be how fully they exploit a Chiefs defense that has ranged from bad to terrible. The Chiefs are giving up almost 315 yards through the air, worst in the league, and are also dead last in total defense with an average yield of 430 yards.

Indianapolis (4-1) at Pittsburgh (2-3), Monday night

The Colts beat NFC North teams Cincinnati and Baltimore, but haven't won in Pittsburgh in 11 tries since 1968, when they won the NFL championship. That 0-11 run includes three playoff losses. Overall, the Colts are 0-8 against Pittsburgh since winning 17-16 in 1984, their first season in Indianapolis.

Jerome Bettis has bounced back from the slowest start of his Steelers career -- 100 yards in three games -- to run for 193 yards in his last two starts. He is 68 yards from passing O.J. Simpson for 11th place in NFL career rushing and 184 yards from John Riggins in 10th place.

Buffalo (3-3) at Miami (5-1)

With Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler sidelined and their top two receivers hurting, Miami will likely rely on Ricky Williams even more. Handing the ball to No. 34 will accomplish two things: take advantage of the Bills' woeful run defense, and keep Drew Bledsoe off the field.

The Dolphins have won four in a row against the Bills, who didn't have Bledsoe in those games. But he's just 1-5 in his past six against Miami, with six touchdown passes, 12 sacks and 12 interceptions.

Carolina (3-3) at Atlanta (2-3)

The Falcons are 6-1 against the Panthers at the Georgia Dome and will be bolstered by the return of cornerback Ray Buchanan, who served a four-game suspension for using steroids. Also, QB Michael Vick is expected to start after missing last week with a sore right (non-throwing) shoulder.

After winning only one game in 2001, Carolina started 3-0 under new coach John Fox, then lost the last three by a total of seven points. Chris Weinke gets his first start of the season with QB Rodney Peete out with a knee injury.

Jacksonville (3-2) at Baltimore (2-3)

Both teams are playing beyond expectations despite salary-cap woes. Now, however, both must cope with injuries.

The Ravens could be without star linebacker Ray Lewis (partially separated left shoulder) and wide receiver Brandon Stokley (ankle). Jacksonville is in worse shape. Quarterback Mark Brunell (concussion last week), hopes to return, but would be operating behind a shuffled offensive line.

Chicago (2-3) at Detroit (1-4)

The Bears have dropped three straight after losing three regular-season games last year. Quarterback Jim Miller is questionable with shoulder and elbow tendinitis. Fifteen-year veteran Chris Chandler is ready.

The Lions had a chance last week to win consecutive games and a road game for the first time since Marty Mornhinweg and Matt Millen took over in 2001, but couldn't maintain their 21-10 halftime lead at Minnesota.

Houston (1-4) at Cleveland (2-4)

It's a homecoming of sorts for Browns quarterback Tim Couch and Houston offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, who coached in Cleveland for two seasons.

Couch was booed by Cleveland fans in his last home game, and better be sharp early or he'll hear it again. Palmer coached the Browns (2-4) in 1999 and 2000, but was fired after winning just five games.

The Texans (1-4) have lost four straight.

Seattle (1-4) at St. Louis (1-5)

Mistakes have held the Seahawks down. They had 10 penalties for 80 yards last week, and CB Shawn Springs was called for an illegal chuck before the 49ers got the winning touchdown pass to Terrell Owens. The Seahawks have sagged in the second half, getting outscored 61-23.

Third-string quarterback Marc Bulger gets his second career start, even though backup Jamie Martin has recovered from a knee injury. Bulger should be even more comfortable because this week he's known since Monday he's the starter.

All-Pro tackle Orlando Pace (calf) could return after missing three weeks. The defense is coming off its best game, by far, holding the NFL's No. 1 offense to 13 points.

Washington (2-3) at Green Bay (5-1)

The Redskins allowed seven sacks last week and rookie QB Patrick Ramsey threw four interceptions. But the Packers are without DE Joe Johnson (triceps) for the season and DE Vonnie Holliday (chest muscle), although he practiced with a shoulder harness this week. The Redskins hope to turn elite CBs Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot loose on Brett Favre, who has thrown just three interceptions to go with 14 TD passes.

The Packers hope to get CB Mike McKenzie (groin) and S Darren Sharper (hamstring) back, although they did well without them in a 28-10 rout of New England. Center Mike Flanagan moves to left tackle for Chad Clifton (knee) and gets his first NFL start there against Bruce Smith.

Dallas (3-3) at Arizona (3-2)

Longtime NFC East rivals have been separated, but meet Sunday in Tempe, where the crowd usually is strongly pro-Dallas. A win would give the Cardinals their best start since 1988.

Emmitt Smith needs 175 yards to surpass Walter Payton (16,726) as the NFL's career leading rusher. Smith rushed for 182 yards against the Cardinals in 1991 and has 11 career 100-yard games against them, but Arizona has held its past two opponents to less than 75 yards rushing each.

Minnesota (1-4) at New York Jets (1-4)

Just what the sputtering Jets secondary needs: a dose of Randy Moss. Although Moss is averaging a mere 8.8 yards a reception, he figures to get several chances to break long plays against a defense that has trouble covering and tackling.

New York needs to control the clock with the running of Curtis Martin, who finally appears recovered from a Week 1 ankle injury.



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