History against the Buccaneers


Published: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 12:31 a.m.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden reacts yells from the sideline during their NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers in Tampa, Sunday. Gruden doesn't want to hear about the Buccaneers' pathetic past in Philadelphia or their cold-weather failures. ``It's like it's 24-0 and we haven't even gotten off the plane yet,'' the Bucs' coach said as his team prepared or Sunday's NFC championship game.

(AP Photo/Phil Coale)
PHILADELPHIA - Jon Gruden doesn't want to hear about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' pathetic history in Philadelphia or their cold-weather failures.
"It's like it's 24-0 and we haven't even gotten off the plane yet," the Bucs' coach said as his team prepared for today's NFC championship game. That's no surprise considering what's happened to the Bucs at Veterans Stadium, where Tampa Bay and Philadelphia meet today in the NFC title game, the final NFL game at the stadium.
Two years ago, Philadelphia won 21-3 in the wild-card round. Last year, it was 31-9 in Tony Dungy's last game as the team's coach.
Gruden did no better in his only foray here: losing 20-10 on Oct. 20 in his first game as head coach in the city where he was offensive coordinator from 1995-97.
Add that Tampa Bay had never won in temperatures under 40 degrees until beating the Bears 15-0 in Champaign, Ill., last month, and you have what some believe is a severe problem - psychologically as much as physically - for the Bucs.
Gruden continued to knock down that idea after arriving in Philadelphia on Friday night.
"We are undefeated in cold weather, we are 1-0," he said. "We played one game in cold weather this year and won it decisively. We are going to go out and play just as if we were playing in Florida and playing in great weather. We will not use it as an excuse."
Put these teams on a neutral field with perfect weather and they're pretty even.
Each finished 12-4 and won its division. The Eagles earned the right to stay home with an 11-1 record against NFC teams, while the Bucs went 9-3 in conference games. They were 1-2 in points allowed - Tampa Bay leading the league at 12.3 per game, the Eagles second at 15.1.
Those inclined to place a wager don't think too much of Tampa Bay's problems up north - the Eagles are favored by four points, one more than the usual home-field edge.
The relatively small spread might be the result of questions about Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb, who played his first game last week after missing eight weeks with a broken right ankle and led the Eagles to a 20-6 win over Atlanta.
McNabb was mobile enough, but he wasn't quite as sharp as he was before the injury, when he was a candidate for MVP.
"I think I got rid of a little bit of rust," McNabb said. "There were some plays in the game that I felt I could have made better plays with. That's something I can definitely learn from this week."
The Bucs won their first playoff game easily, beating San Francisco 31-6. But that was at home, in warm weather and without the hostile fans, the slippery artificial turf and the frigid temperatures that have made the Vet a house of horrors for visitors.
Moreover, the only touchdown Tampa Bay has scored in three straight losses in the Vet was on defense - a fumble return by Derrick Brooks in October.
Today's game could be a rarity, a defensive game in a playoff year which has featured scores like 34-31, 36-33 and 39-38. The Eagles scored just one offensive touchdown against the Falcons, and the Bucs picked on a depleted San Francisco secondary that had safeties playing cornerback.
Other than McNabb, most of the stars are on defense.
Three of Philadelphia's four starters in the secondary are going to the Pro Bowl. Four of Tampa Bay's defensive starters, led by Brooks, the league's defensive player of the year, are headed to Hawaii.
"The defense that plays the best on Sunday will win this game," Eagles' cornerback Troy Vincent said. "It won't come down to offense."
Both teams have recent losses in title games.
Tampa Bay reached the championship game in 2000, losing 11-6 in St. Louis when an official's decision ended its chances of reaching the Super Bowl. On that call, it was ruled that the ball touched the ground after Bert Emanuel made a catch deep in Rams' territory late in the game.
The call was upheld by replay but the rule was changed - that catch would be legal now.
"I won't say we were jobbed," Tampa Bay safety John Lynch said. "We had a lot of other chances to win that game."
Philadelphia lost in the title game in St. Louis last season, 29-24, driving for the potential winning touchdown when a McNabb pass was intercepted by Aeneas Williams. The year before, the Eagles lost in the second round to the New York Giants, who went on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
That natural progression should put the Eagles in San Diego next week for their first Super Bowl trip in 22 years.
"I stood there and watched the celebration for a while last year after we lost in St. Louis," safety Brian Dawkins said. "It hurt. It hurt badly. I saw the way the fans were so happy for them. We want to do the same for our fans."
So do the Buccaneers, the only team in the NFL to make the playoffs each of the last four years.

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