Talk of the town
Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio.
1. Who said anything about pressure: The Monday night showdown against Carolina will be the biggest regular-season game Tampa Bay has played in years. If they lose, the Bucs will be one game behind the Panthers with three to play. If they win, because of the tiebreaker, they will essentially have a two-game lead. That makes it a three-game swing in a three-hour window.
2. Flying to the rescue: We have given Jeremy Trueblood grief for being a little too passionate at the end of plays, so it's only fair to point out how his hustle may have saved a game. Jeff Garcia's fumble in the fourth quarter could have been huge if the 320-pound Trueblood did not leap across several bodies to recover the ball at the Bucs 25.
3. Yes, but other than the facts: The NFC South is much improved, but before declaring it the best division in the league you may want to consider South teams are 0-3 against the NFC East.
4. Many happy returns: In their first 32 seasons, the Bucs used 141 kick returners. None was as good as Clifton Smith. In their first 500 regular-season games, the Bucs used 106 punt returners. None was as good as Clifton Smith. In barely a month, the rookie free agent has become the greatest return man in Tampa Bay history. His kickoff (29.4) and punt (17.5) averages are the best the Bucs have ever had for anyone with at least 15 returns.
5. Matt-nificent: While we're passing out greatest-ever titles on special teams, we might as well include Matt Bryant. The Bucs kicker is on his way to the most accurate, and maybe the most prolific, season ever seen in Tampa Bay. Over the past two seasons, he has hit 96.2 percent (51-of-53) of field goals from 45 yards or less.
A list of five
Five signs Monte Kiffin is out of here:
5. Rod Marinelli just faxed his resume to the Glazers.
4. Monte Cristo is half-price at all Knoxville Denny's locations.
3. Al Davis attempting to garnish his wages.
2. Returning his $150,000 clothing allowance at Neiman Marcus.
1. Overheard asking Derrick Brooks if he had eligibility remaining.
Five matchups the Bucs won
1. Drew Brees vs. Jeff Garcia: The Saints quarterback threw for 296 yards, and Garcia had 119, his season low as a starter. So why was Garcia better? Because he didn't force passes. Brees is talented, but needs to learn the difference between aggressive and smart. His three INTs were as many as Garcia has thrown all season.
2. Reggie Bush vs. Carnell Williams: Coming off a knee injury that kept him out a month, Bush dropped two passes, had minus-16 yards on punt returns and three rushes for zero yards. Coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss 14 months, Williams scored on an 8-yard sweep and converted on fourth and 1.
3. Sean Payton vs. Jon Gruden: Both teams pass more than they run, but Gruden was smart enough to adjust his plan for the poor weather. Payton insisted on throwing in rain and wind, and it cost him dearly.
4. The past vs. Aqib Talib: After getting burned by the Saints in his NFL debut three months ago, the Bucs' rookie corner turned in a solid performance.
5. Kim Kardashian vs. good taste: In a landslide.
Five super picks
Checking out the best bets for Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa.
1. Giants: Hmm, usually Plaxico Burress just shoots his mouth off.
2. Steelers: Can they survive next three against Dallas, Baltimore and Tennessee?
3. Titans: Could have shown a little more pilgrim spirit against the Lions.
4. Cowboys: Different team with Tony Romo in the lineup.
6. Bucs: Guarantee first back-to-back winning seasons in Gruden era.
Final five words
They own the fourth quarter.