The Bucs are eager to get back on the field and put Sunday's loss to the Saints behind them. They're even more eager to break their routine of playing well but not quite well enough to win.
Tampa Bay has been in every game so far, but, at 2-4, a self-inflicted mistake here or there has proved to be the difference between winning and losing. The Bucs have quickly determined they are physically talented enough to beat any team they face, no matter the venue. They're starting to struggle, however, with a "what will happen this time" mentality. The good news is no one is pointing fingers, probably because every unit has done something to contribute to the losses.
The Bucs know they'll start winning again just as soon as they stop beating themselves. Right now, though, the Bucs are their own worst enemy.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Turn up the pressure
The loss of DE Adrian Clayborn a month ago to a season-ending knee injury had an almost devastating impact on the pass rush. Since then, Tampa Bay has just two sacks, both against Redskins QB Robert Griffin III. Whether it's through increased blitzes, stunts or better technique, the Bucs have to pressure Vikings QB Christian Ponder. As his 16 sacks indicate, Ponder is a typical young quarterback who holds the ball too long and fails to sense a pass rusher bearing down on him. Ponder can extend plays and throw on the run, but Tampa Bay can neutralize that with an improved pass rush.
Reduce the pressure
Only the Bengals and Packers have more sacks than the Vikings with 22. Minnesota is led by RDE Jared Allen, who has sacks in each of his past five games and six total. The Bucs do a decent job reducing the pressure on QB Josh Freeman, but coach Greg Schiano doesn't believe LT Donald Penn is playing his best football and Penn is the first line of defense against Allen. Tampa Bay might need to run several two-tight end and two-back sets, simply to have extra protection for Freeman. It will be up to Freeman to get the ball out quickly, but the real key to avoiding sacks starts up front with the offensive line.
Do something special
The Bucs special teams units have not been all that special of late. PK Connor Barth, who set a franchise record with 25 straight field goals earlier this season, missed two of his past three tries. The coverage units have been adequate, at best. And the return units have been less than ordinary. On top of it all, the Bucs continue to take crippling penalties, such as the unsportsmanlike conduct call for verbally trying to draw the Saints offside on a field-goal try. Tampa Bay must reverse this trend, largely because Minnesota has one of the best special teams units in the league. PR Marcus Sherels, KR Percy Harvin and PK Blair Walsh are among the league leaders in their areas of expertise.
Bucs CB Brandon McDonald vs. Vikings WR Percy Harvin
The Bucs are going to have to bring an extra defender into the box to help against Adrian Peterson. That will open up some space for Harvin, as dynamic a player as there is. Harvin ranks second in the NFL in receptions and sixth in receiving yards. Many believe he makes the Vikings offense go. The Bucs are coming off a loss to the Saints in which their coverage in the secondary was suspect. Nickel back Brandon McDonald has handled most of the slot corner duties, and unless the Bucs suddenly switch Ronde Barber back to slot corner, it will be up to McDonald to keep Harvin at bay. He'll get a little help from the safeties and linebackers, but maybe not as much as he needs.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH BUCS LB QUINCY BLACK
Q: You didn't start a game in your first two NFL seasons. Were you wondering when your day would come?
A: In this league, you're always just one play away from getting on the field. In my case, we had some really good linebackers ahead of me, so you keep working hard to prepare yourself for an opportunity.
Q: Growing up in Chicago, how many times did you see Michael Jordan play in person?
A: None, zero. My family didn't have the means to go out and see the Bulls when I was growing up, but I was definitely a fan of the team. You can't put into words what Michael means to the city of Chicago. There wasn't anybody who didn't like Michael Jordan – unless you were a Knicks fan.
Q: At the 2007 NFL combine, you ran a 4.4 in the 40 and outjumped Calvin Johnson. Can you still leap 411/2 inches and run a 4.4?
A: I trained eight weeks for that combine. I'm sure if I trained eight weeks again, I could go out and put those same numbers up.
Q: You lost both parents before you were out of high school. What kept you going through that traumatic period?
A: It was a whirlwind of things that happened. I was just trying to get through it. Family, friends and emotional help poured in from everywhere. Death is a part of life. If you're born, you will die. It was definitely a tough time, but the way I look at it, everything is a test.
Q: You played football at the University of New Mexico. How long did it take for a kid from inner-city Chicago to adapt to the wide-open spaces of Albuquerque?
A: There were a couple of junior college stops in between, but it was a big transition. Albuquerque was very scenic and beautiful. People there took great care of me and I still think about it, especially when I'm around some fans here that are from Albuquerque.
ROY CUMMINGS, Bucs, 31-24: The Bucs keep their offense rolling in a short-week upset.
IRA KAUFMAN, Vikings, 24-20: A short NFL work week has been devastating for road teams.