Joe Henderson Columns
Bucs in the playoffs? Stranger things have happened
TAMPA - We know everything that has to happen for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make the playoffs, starting with the not-inconsequential fact that all the scenarios go boom if they don't beat the defending Super Bowl champions Sunday in the Superdome. But for purposes of our discussion, let's give the lads a nod and say they beat the New Orleans Saints. They'd still need the Green Bay Packers to lose to the Chicago Bears while the New York Giants lose to the Washington Redskins (two words: Bruce Allen) to make the post-season party. No chance, right? I mean, how strange would it be if all the stars aligned and the Bucs suddenly slipped in through the playoff door while no one was looking? Oh, about as strange as Minnesota playing a home game in Detroit because the Metrodome roof collapsed.Oh, about as strange as Brett Favre missing two games and being fined by the same commissioner who seems ready to name Michael Vick the NFL's Man of the Year. Oh, and Vick says he wants to adopt a dog. Now that's strange. You think back to how Jacksonville won a game against Houston when the Texans batted a Hail Mary pass on the last play into the hands of a Jaguar receiver, who stepped into the end zone. Remember when the Eagles beat the Giants with a punt return for a touchdown on the game's final play? What were the odds that Wade Phillips, Mike Singletary, Brad Childress and Josh McDaniels would be fired during the season while Raheem Morris is in the conversation for coach of the year? Or that Josh Freeman would be ahead of Drew Brees in the NFL quarterback rankings? How about Philly and Minnesota introducing the nation to Tuesday night football? Or Seattle, with a 6-9 record, playing this week with the chance to host a playoff game? Or Donovan McNabb playing backup to Rex Grossman? "It's crazy. Anything can happen," said Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn, whose touchdown catch this season was pretty wacky, as well. "We've just got to take care of business. We can't even look ahead to the Giants or Packers. We should have taken care of business against Detroit. If we had done that, we'd be talking a whole different scenario now. "New Orleans is a great team. They're the defending champs." He also said something else about the Saints. "I don't like anyone over there," he said. The Saints beat the Bucs 31-6 on Oct. 17 at Ray Jay and it was basically a seal-clubbing. It was 17-0 at halftime and the Bucs never made it close. Brees threw three touchdown passes and Chris Ivory ran for 158 yards. The Bucs gained only 42 yards on the ground. "I don't know how everyone else feels about it, but I still have a sour taste in my mouth the way we lost to them the first game," Penn said. "It's very hard when you go out there and play your heart out and come up on the short end of the stick. I'll never forget." A lot of things are different now, though. For starters, rookie running back LeGarrette Blount was inactive in that first game against the Saints. Josh Freeman has more targets to choose from in the passing game now, too, even with last week's injury to receiver Arrelious Benn. This has been a fun, interesting, and entertaining team to watch for much of this season. Yet the Bucs are barely mentioned in most of the national playoff back-and-forth, if they're mentioned at all. This is a pretty interesting game Sunday, but the networks looked elsewhere when using their "flex" scheduling option to change starting times. This game will stay with its original 1 p.m. kickoff, meaning that if the Bucs win they'll have to sweat out the results at Green Bay and Washington before learning their playoff fate. "We don't get no respect," Penn said. "We're playing at 1 o'clock. No respect." Maybe the "No Respect" Gang will go away after this Sunday, leaving us to ponder what moves they need to make before next season. The odds would certainly suggest that. But would the sky really be falling if a team that was 3-13 last year made the playoffs? The answer would be "yes" if the Bucs called the Metrodome home. But they don't, so just remember: This year in the NFL, strange is the new normal.