Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe takes a look at the Bucs defense. Compared with their offensive counterparts, who confuse opponents with different looks, the Tampa defense is vanilla. But with the way the defense has played this season -- linemen surging into the backfield, linebackers filling holes created by the big boys up front, and defensive backs smothering receivers downfield -- trickery isn't a requirement to foil offenses such as New England's. "They've got a good defensive front," Graham said. "We've got to account for that. If we execute our plays, we can get open and make good plays."
Jerome Solomon and Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe and Tom Curran of the Providence Journal reports that Tom Brady, whose injured shin has made his participation in tomorrow's game with Tampa "questionable," was dressed and on the field yesterday afternoon for practice. Brady took part in the team stretching exercises on the Gillette Stadium field during media access to practice. With little sign that his left shin is bothersome, Brady will play tomorrow against Tampa Bay; with a win, the Patriots would clinch the AFC East title. Coach Bill Belichick is treating the game like it is a one-game season. "We'll do everything we can for this game and try to win this game and worry about next week next week," Belichick said.
Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald writes that since the start of the 2001 regular season - the year that delivered New England its first Super Bowl victory - the Patriots are 15-3 in December. Two of the losses came in 2002, a year the Pats missed the playoffs. The other came last year at Miami, when the Pats fell asleep in the final minutes of a fluky, 29-28 defeat to the Dolphins.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that when last the Patriots played at Gillette Stadium, Richard Seymour departed the field with a message for the home fans: Make some noise next time. Fellow defensive lineman Vince Wilfork yesterday said he expects the so-called 12th man to give the Pats a decided home-field advantage when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tomorrow. "There's no doubt in my mind these fans are going to come out and make as much loud noise as possible," Wilfork said. "Whatever we need, they're going to do it. They knew what Richard was getting at. I don't think they took it the wrong way. I know they're going to do their part."
Jim McCabe of the Boston Globe takes a look at this weeks NFL matchups and offers his picks.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald offers a story on Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch. Branch has 70 receptions and finds himself among the top handful of receivers in the NFL. He and Brady have nurtured a unique bond, operating at peak efficiency without saying a word. As the season draws to a close, Branch is on pace to top 85 receptions and 1,000 yards. He has already set career highs in almost every meaningful category. He may stand just 5-foot-9, but in terms of impacting the Patriots offense, no one's bigger. "All of the great quarterbacks have a Robin to their Batman," said Patriots tight end Christian Fauria. "You had Montana and Rice. Young and Rice. Bradshaw and Swann. Peyton and Harrison. Deion and Tom are in that class."
Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald writes that it is unclear whether offensive lineman Nick Kaczur will be back in the starting lineup. With quarterback Tom Brady officially listed as questionable for the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots once again face the possibility of playing with starting right tackle Tom Ashworth playing on the left side. That was the case last week when Kaczur was unavailable for a 35-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal takes a look at Tampa Bay QB Chris Simms. Since taking over for injured starter Brian Griese on Oct. 16, the Bucs have gone 4-3 with Simms at the controls, and have won four of their last five. Most importantly, Simms is putting the ball where it needs to be (60.8 completion percentage). He has six touchdown passes and five picks in 212 attempts. He's 32-for-48 in the last two Tampa wins, and has directed two last-minute drives to secure victories in the last month (at Atlanta and vs. Washington). "Repetition is the mother of learning, and he's gotten better, more acclimated to the speed of the game," said Tampa coach Jon Gruden, who has been tremendously demanding during his development of Simms.
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant writes that Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden returns to Foxborough for the first time since he coached the Raiders against the Patriots in an AFC divisional playoff, now better-known as The Snow Bowl. It was the last game played at the old Foxboro Stadium, and to many, the Patriots' 16-13 overtime victory over the Raiders that snowy night was the most memorable. Gruden, 42, remembers it, too, sort of the way you'd remember having a sharp stick stuck in your eye. "Any time you lose a game like that and you're the opposing coach, you're going to obviously be disappointed," Gruden said in a conference call this week. "I was disappointed for our players. It was [lineman Steve] Wisniewski's last game and [defensive back] Eric Allen's last game as a football player, so it was hard to face them."
Chris Kennedy of The Republican offers a story on offensive lineman Ross Tucker, who was recently signed by the Patriots. The fifth-year pro with a solid amount of NFL experience played in all 16 games for the Buffalo Bills last season, starting a dozen, but was released this past Sept.4 - at the end of training camp.
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers his weekly Patriots report card. The lowest grade of a C went out to the Patriots special teams, who allowed Terrence McGee to rack up 126 return yards on five attempts.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.