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For Tampa Bay Buccaneers, trip to London offers fresh outlook and, perhaps, opportunity

LONDON — The grass at Wembley Stadium is longer than most in the NFL, so the Bucs were looking forward to practice there Saturday morning. But because rain began to fall overnight, the league ordered the field covered, and the team's workout was confined to the cramped, carpeted ballroom at the InterContinental Hotel.

Players had about 90 minutes of free time before more meetings and dinner. Welcome to One Buc-kingham Palace, where every movement since arriving late Friday in England has been closely guarded.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have been treated like NFL royalty.

The league had a neatly manicured Oval cricket grounds lined and transformed into a practice facility, complete with portable goal posts, for the Patriots on Friday. The only mention of the game in the Times of London on Saturday described New England as "all conquering, grim and joyless" and a "crunching might, often reluctantly admired, but seldom loved."

As for the Bucs (or Buccs, as the newspaper referred to them)? Chances are we will see "a crushing," it said.

"I was telling some guys at breakfast, if we win this game, I'm canceling Friday's practice for the rest of the year," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We'll have to do it other ways. We'll have to do it in the meeting rooms. They canceled our trip to Wembley (Saturday), so we don't even get to walk through. You've got to learn to love adversity, and this is just part of it.

"I think we'll embrace what we have here, being the only game in town, literally. And just have fun with it. We know it's another regular-season game for us, but at the same time, it's a great opportunity."

For the 0-6 Bucs, that's what this trip to London has represented.

Tampa Bay was always going to be the undercard for this exhibition-turned-regular-season game. The Patriots were coming! The Patriots were coming! That's why the 90,000 tickets were all sold just hours after they went on sale.

But when the flashbulbs explode like lightning at kickoff today, the Bucs will realize this is not an ordinary game or venue.

"I think everybody is very excited because it's definitely a new atmosphere, a soccer stadium, maybe a little more of the chanting going on," linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "So all of us are excited to experience something different."

How about winning?

"I definitely think so," Ruud said. "We're 0-6 right now. But we look back and if we'd played a couple good games, we could easily be .500 or 4-2. But it's one of those things where it's always an opportunity to prove yourself. And you're always on the line in the NFL. You know if you don't play well, your resume is out there every week. So if you don't play well, you could be out of a job."

Former Giants Super Bowl quarterback Phil Simms, who will provide analysis for CBS today, said, "Of course we're hoping for a close game. We still believe in this saying that on any given Sunday …"

But after closely examining the Bucs' roster, he has questioned the lack of experienced players.

"You know what you get with young players in the NFL," Simms asked rhetorically. "Losing."

Barber, 34, has suffered through losing seasons in 2003, 2004 and 2006. But not since the Bucs' 1976-77 teams have they endured anything like the 10-game losing streak dating to the last month of 2008.

Barber took a look at the film of the Patriots' 59-0 victory over the winless Titans last week in which quarterback Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes in 35 minutes. He came away shaking his head.

"New England is as good as it gets," Barber said. "You watch them on film, and they're hard to figure because Tom's so good, the receivers are so good. But we'll find a way to win this game. It would be a nice way to start over. You watch that game on film, they hit a lot of big plays. We understand where we are in the season. We're not naive to that fact. But at the same time, we're professionals, they're professionals. We're not going to lay down for them, that is for sure."

So for the Bucs, it's all business — but not as usual. Not when red double-decker buses pump like blood through the arteries of downtown London. Not when just beyond the barbwire wall outside your window is the garden of Buckingham Palace. Not when the street in front of your hotel is barricaded for an antiwar demonstration.

"Any time you get a chance to play the New England Patriots and you get lucky enough to come out of here with a win? That develops a certain confidence and swagger," coach Raheem Morris said. "That can carry us for the next nine games. It also can break you down if you go out there and get humiliated by the Patriots."

Bucs vs. Patriots 1 p.m., Wembley Stadium, London | TV/radio: Ch. 10; 103.5-FM, 620-AM

For Tampa Bay Buccaneers, trip to London offers fresh outlook and, perhaps, opportunity 10/24/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 25, 2009 6:08pm]
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