Young Bucs eager for challenge against Gibbs' Redskins


Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
TAMPA - Jon Gruden rejects the notion that his surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already had a successful season.
"We don't want to have that loser's mentality about, 'Gee, we overachieved in some people's eyes,' or 'Hey, we've had a good year.' Baloney," Gruden said. "You're not playing in this organization for any other reason than to compete for championships and we want to make the most of our opportunities."
Thanks in no small part to an infusion of young talent on offense, the Bucs (11-5) went from 5-11 in 2004 to winning the NFC South title this season. They will end a two-year hiatus from the playoffs when they host Washington (10-6) today in the NFC wild-card round.
The game also marks the Redskins' postseason return under Joe Gibbs, the three-time Super Bowl winner who came out of retirement two years ago to resuscitate a team that made the playoffs once during his 11 seasons away from the NFL.
Both clubs are excited about their prospects in what's generally regarded as a wide-open bracket in the NFC.
"I think every year there are dark horses that jump onto the scene. It's just fact," Gruden said.
"I don't really think that anybody thought New England, in their first Super Bowl season, was going to go from 5-11 to 11-5 and win the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback. I don't think anybody thought we were going to do it either. There are some interesting teams in the field."
With Gibbs at the helm, Washington is one of them.
The Redskins rebounded from a three-game losing streak that included a 36-35 loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 13, to win five straight down the stretch and make the playoffs for the first time since Washington lost 14-13 to the Bucs in a divisional-round game in 1999.
The team's confidence is soaring. "Our backs have been against the wall for a long time, which isn't the case for a lot of playoff teams," offensive tackle Jon Jansen said. "We're comfortable with that situation, so I think going into the playoffs maybe we have a slight advantage in that regard."
Quarterback Mark Brunell agreed. "They have not been playoff games, but we realized if we lose, we're done," Brunell said. "Any of those five games, if they're a loss, we're on the plane right now or sitting on our couch doing something else."
Gibbs, 16-5 in the playoffs during a 12-year run with the Redskins from 1981-92, understandably is excited about being back in the mix.
"It's the same feeling. I'm just thrilled," he said. "I think what the most fun for me is all the people that are here now that are getting to enjoy it, and go through it with you. The players and certainly our owner Dan (Snyder), for him to be back in the playoffs, he certainly deserves it."
Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl three seasons ago, then fell on hard times the past two years. That's made the team's turnaround, with third-year quarterback Chris Simms running an offense built around rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams that much sweeter for Gruden, who's also impressed with the job Gibbs has done in getting the Redskins back on track.
The Bucs coach said he and others have benefited greatly from ideas taken from the Hall of Famer.
"A lot of us have stolen from him," Gruden said, adding that Tampa Bay will be facing a team that's much improved over the one that lost to the Bucs on Mike Alstott's last-minute, 2-point conversion run two months ago.
"Their defense is playing extremely well, their offense is making explosive plays, and in the kicking game they're dangerous as well. ... They look like they could win it all, if you ask me."
One of the keys for Tampa Bay will be containing Clinton Portis, who rushed for 144 yards in the midseason meeting. Washington is equally concerned about not letting Williams have a big day on the ground for the Bucs.
Gibbs noted Williams, voted NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year this week, was not healthy the first time the teams played and was limited to 20 yards on 10 carries. Simms took up the slack, throwing for 279 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions or sacks.
The son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms took over for the injured Brian Griese in Week 6 and won six of 10 starts. He expects another hard-fought game today, and is confident his lack of postseason experience won't be a factor.
"We realize they are very talented. We just want to win any way possible," Simms said. "We don't care if it's 6-3, 3-0 or 45-20. Whatever it is, we'll be happy."

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