The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began official preparations today for their NFC semifinal game against the Washington Redskins, although Coach Tony Dungy said he began planning to face Washington long before the Redskins defeated the Detroit Lions on Saturday.
"We thought we had a 90 percent chance to play Washington," said Dungy, whose club earned a first-round playoff bye. "They were playing well and playing at home, so we spent a lot of time last week preparing, figuring they'd be our opponent."
Returning this afternoon from a three-day mini-vacation, the Buccaneers received a scare when rookie kicker Martin Gramatica arrived complaining of stomach pains. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where a battery of tests did not reveal any problems. Gramatica, who was not available to comment, was expected to practice Wednesday.
Gramatica, selected in the third round of the draft out of Kansas State, has converted 27 of 32 field goal attempts for 106 points and has emerged as a key weapon for a team that often struggles offensively. The Bucs averaged just 16.9 points per game during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL.
"Martin had a little gastrointestinal problem for the last two days and we wanted to rule out appendicitis," Dungy said. "He's going to be fine."
Much of the Buccaneers' preparations today focused on the Redskins' high-powered offense. Tampa Bay's defense has carried the team for much of the season, with the Buccaneers twice winning games in which they did not score an offensive touchdown.
The defense often has kept the Buccaneers in games while their conservative offense, which centers on bruising fullback Mike Alstott, eventually wears out opponents.
"We can't get into track meets with anyone," Dungy said. "Washington is very explosive, and you could see how they took Detroit out of their game early. It's crucial for the defense to not let them get out to early scores. That's the case with us every week, but especially with them because they have the ability to get out in front early and force you to play catch-up."
While the Buccaneers have struggled offensively, they will face a Redskins defense that has ranked among the league's worst.
"I've never been one to get into rankings and what that all means," Dungy said. "They score a lot of points and get ahead, and when you do that you can then give up a lot of yards and it doesn't mean anything. We expect them to play tough and we're expecting to see a very good defense."
Quarterback Trent Dilfer, who broke his collarbone Nov. 28, continued his faster-than-expected recovery and could be available as the backup to rookie Shaun King.
"He still hasn't been given [medical] clearance to play," Dungy said. "If he's cleared, it's a matter of giving him the reps in practice, but we still won't know for sure how he is until he's in a game and gets hit."