TAMPA — A national audience twice will get to click on the television and watch the Buccaneers play at Raymond James Stadium — something local fans could not do last season.
A year after Tampa Bay was the only team to have all 10 home games subject to the local blackout rule, the Bucs were rewarded for their 10-6 record with two prime-time games that could excite — or potentially embarrass — their fan base when the 2011 schedule was released Tuesday.
The Bucs will host quarterback Peyton Manning and the Colts on ESPN's Monday Night Football in Week 4 at 8:30 on Oct. 3. It's the first MNF game in Tampa since 2003.
That won't be the only national exposure for young Bucs like quarterback Josh Freeman, receiver Mike Williams and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Tampa Bay will host the Cowboys on NFL Network at 8:20 p.m. Dec. 17.
The Bucs last played on Monday night Dec. 8, 2008 at Carolina, a 38-23 loss.
Among the highlights of the Bucs' 2011 schedule:
• An early showdown with NFC South rival Atlanta on Sept. 25 that is the second game of the Fox national doubleheader.
• After their MNF game against the Colts, the Bucs travel on a short week to play at the 49ers on Oct. 9.
• The Bucs travel to Lambeau Field to play the Super Bowl champion Packers on Nov. 20.
• Consecutive road games against division rivals Carolina and Atlanta to end the season.
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer has said new season-ticket sales in January through March were the best in years and renewals have been "extremely strong." He did not predict whether there would be blackouts in 2011.
"I think if we do our job, on the field and off of it, blackouts will take care of themselves," he said. "And we won't even be talking about if it's right or if it's wrong."
The Bucs are scheduled to play the Bears on Oct. 23 at London's Wembley Stadium. That game will remain at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa if the NFL labor situation isn't resolved by Aug. 1. Season-ticket holders who have paid in full will receive a refund for the lost home game and won't have to wait for the resolution of the NFL lockout.
Ticket holders who paid by cash or check will receive a check refund. Those paying by credit card will be credited the prorated amount for the single game. Payment plans will be adjusted to reflect the balance minus the Bears game.
Tampa Bay opens Sept. 11 by hosting the Lions, who essentially knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs with a 23-20 overtime win Dec. 20 at RJS. It's the third straight season the Bucs have kicked off the season at home.
The Bucs' first road game will be Sept. 18 at Minnesota.
Of course, given the labor climate, all NFL schedules might need to be written in pencil.
LEAGUEWIDE: The Packers open defense of their title at home Sept. 8 against the Saints in a matchup of the past two Super Bowl champions. The season's first Sunday falls on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The New York Jets host Dallas that day, and the Giants play at the Redskins in a matchup between the two cities, New York and Washington, most affected by the attacks.