Jon Gruden talked late Monday morning of how he wouldn’t be distracted by the out-of-town scores as they flash on the scoreboard at Raymond James Stadium this Sunday when the suits at NFL headquarters in New York City made a decision that would eliminate that potential for distraction. They moved the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game to 4:15 p.m.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to beat the Oakland Raiders to have any shot at the final wild-card spot. The Eagles, who could still be alive Sunday, need the Bucs to lose to have any shot at a playoff berth.
The Cowboys just have to win to get in.
It would be only human for the Bucs to sneak a peek at the Cowboys-Eagles score Sunday if the game were played at the same time, which had been the original schedule. Now, the Bucs can focus their attention where it should be — keeping their postseason hope alive.
That’s good for the Bucs.
But, the Eagles will take the field shortly after the Bucs-Raiders game. A Bucs win means the Eagles have nothing to play for, and that’s bad news for the Bucs, because we have seen how NFL teams play when they have nothing to play for.
“Obviously, we will be rooting for Philly, but all predicates on what we do,” Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. “All we can do is root for us.”
A Bucs win would set up an interesting set of circumstances for the Eagles.
One, they are out of the postseason.
Two, they want to beat the Cowboys, one of their biggest rivals.
Three, they are not big fans of the Bucs.
The Bucs and Eagles have an interesting history.
An Eagles win against the Bucs in the 2001 playoffs cost Tony Dungy his job.
A Bucs win in the NFC Championship Game the following year sent the Bucs to the Super Bowl.
It’s a spirited rivalry for two teams who are not in the same division.
And now the Bucs need the Eagles to play the Cowboys as if it is Week 5, not the final game of a disappointing season.
“The game is about lining up and winning, period,” Brooks said.
“Now I’m not trying to give Philadelphia a motivation speech. I got to worry about making sure we’re ready to play Oakland. And that’s all we can control, playing Oakland.”
Yes, the Bucs have to do something Sunday that they haven’t done all month: win a football game.
They have to find their defense and hope the Jeff Garcia-to-Antonio Bryant Show continues.
“We don’t have any control over the general factors in our situation now, but the only thing we can control is how we go out there and play,” defensive end Kevin Carter said. “If we can’t get ourselves together and focused to go out there with a purpose to win then we won’t win. It’s not about who’s going to the playoffs. We have to win one game.”
And if they can get themselves together and find a way to win one more game this season, the Bucs will gather around TV sets and do something they never dreamed they would do: root for the Eagles.
“You dig yourself a hole, man,” Brooks said, “you do things you never done before.”