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Gridiron: Bucs can get back to form.

Byline: PHIL AGIUS

CHAMPIONS Tampa Bay should come out on top when a team who have lost their aura of invincibility meet a team who have lost their

talisman in Sky's first live game on Sunday.

The Buccaneers looked to have begun the defence of their first Lombardi Trophy where they left off, dominating Philadelphia on the road in a 17-0 victory in Week One.

That performance was devalued slightly when the Eagles were walloped again last week, at the same time as the NFL's 7-1 pre-season favourites were suffering their first defeat against 100-1 Carolina.

The Bucs should have saved themselves but Carolina's third blocked kick on an extra-point conversion sent the game into overtime, where the Panthers won 12-9.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden has even fewer weapons with which to go to war this week as Joe Jurevicius, a key member of their Super Bowl offence, is out for up to six weeks.

The Bucs still have a workmanlike set of wideouts, with Karl Williams now the main support to Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell, but their running game remains a cause for concern, with the combined efforts of Michael Pittman, Thomas Jones and Mike Alstott rarely frightening opposing defences.

It's not all gloomy though. The Bucs' awesome defence has yet to give up a touchdown this season and cornerback Ronde Barber is set to take his place in a still-scary line-up

despite a hamstring strain.

Atlanta have a matching

1-1 record to Tampa Bay, but strike you as a team in limbo while they wait for QB Michael Vick to return from a broken leg sustained in pre-season.

Doug Johnson is no mug, and steered the Falcons to

victory at Dallas, but he won't win a game on his own.

Running back tandem

Warrick Dunn and TJ Duckett might try to emulate the Panthers, who pounded Stephen Davis at the heart of the Bucs defence all day but costly

receiver Peerless Price has had just two catches per game.

If Tampa Bay were at all complacent, they should be fully fired up again and, against a team who threw away a 17-point lead last week, they look good value for a sixth straight success against the Falcons.

Recommendation

Tampa Bay -3.5

3pts 9-10 (Bet Direct)

CAPTION(S):

Peerless Price Expensive signing
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 19, 2003
Words:386
Previous Article:Gridiron: Redskins on the warpath in capital.
Next Article:The Agius Verdict: Vikings set to savage Lions; Daunte Culpepper should torment Detroit.


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