Sunday, December 03, 2006

A View from the Sunshine State

Here is what some from South Florida are thinking of today's Battle of the Titans:

"Must-see TV, this is not.

Of the 16 NFL games this week, only one features a pair of teams with worse combined records than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-8) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-7).

That unfortunate distinction belongs to the Houston Texans (3-8) and Oakland Raiders (2-9).

When the Bucs face the Steelers at 4:15 p.m. today at Heinz Field, the two teams will not resemble their recent days of glory.

Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl following the 2002 season only to go 7-9 in 2003. Pittsburgh is on track to fail to defend its 2005 championship as well.

Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece can relate.

'Obviously, they are probably frustrated with where they are,' Nece said. 'They had high expectations, just like we did coming off our Super Bowl year.

'And you're excited about the upcoming season, and you think you're going to go back to the Super Bowl. Obviously, they've been plagued by different elements, injuries, whatever may be, prior to the season and during the season.

'These two teams kind of have their backs in the corner, and we have to go out and fight now.'

Injuries have abounded for both teams at key positions.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a trying preseason, enduring a motorcycle accident and an unrelated appendectomy. He missed the season opener and since has thrown 19 interceptions, most in the NFL.

Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms had thrown seven interceptions -- most in the NFL after three games -- before suffering a season-ending ruptured spleen, which was removed in emergency surgery Sept. 24.

Both teams have tried to adapt to adversity, and those adjustments will continue today.

Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu and leading wide receiver Hines Ward will miss today's game because of knee injuries. Tampa Bay has a slew of defenders listed as questionable, including linebacker Shelton Quarles, defensive tackle Ellis Wyms, safety Will Allen and cornerback Juran Bolden with various injuries.

Two starters on defense, end Simeon Rice and cornerback Brian Kelly, are gone for the year with a shoulder and turf toe injuries, respectively.

The Bucs defense, No. 1 in the NFL last season, now ranks 23rd in the league and the lineup looks younger each week. Young Buccaneers defenders like rookies Julian Jenkins and Charles Bennett will receive more playing time. They have been looking to their elders for support.

'They've spoken to us about motor,' Jenkins said. 'They've spoken to us about getting more experience, and they've been real positive about it. They know we have to go out there and make plays just like they do, and we'll win this thing together
.' "

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