LANDOVER, Md. — They say it is meaningless, and for those who made it through 3½ hours Thursday night without changing the channel, it probably felt that way.
But here, high above the turf in a suite at FedEx Field, there are certain players who are being studied by Buccaneers coaches and officials. There are discussions taking place. There are life-changing decisions on the verge of being made.
It may feel like a dress rehearsal, but the final game of the NFL preseason is much more than that. It is a final opportunity for a small handful of players on the verge of a dream.
It is a night they will forever look back on, in either gratitude or regret.
No one understands this better than Bucs general manager Mark Dominik, who stood in a hallway outside of his suite during halftime and contemplated the 27 players who will soon be told the sweat and bruises of the past six weeks were not enough.
"I felt like I knew about 45 guys (were on the final 53-man roster) coming in. I wouldn't let this game play those guys out of a roster spot," Dominik said. "But there are seven, eight guys who could play themselves into a roster spot or hold on to their spot that they were penciled in at.
"When you look at it that way, this night will have a big impact on our football team."
So, did Ed Gant turn heads with his big plays against the Redskins? Did Mossis Madu or Armando Allen show a certain elusiveness missing from the backfield? Did Rudy Carpenter sign his pink slip?
Did Kyle Moore and Elbert Mack play themselves back into contention?
By the time the Bucs' charter flight left Baltimore Washington International Airport after the 29-24 loss to the Redskins, Dominik would have sat down with coach Raheem Morris to go over the roster. This would be followed by meetings with each assistant coach at 30,000 feet.
The plane was scheduled to reach Tampa somewhere around 3 a.m., where Dominik and his staff would make the choice of sleeping at One Buc Place or heading home for three hours. Somewhere around daybreak, they would begin watching a tape of the game.
Then there would be more meetings in anticipation of the roster cuts required by Saturday.
"That's the worst part of this job," Dominik said. "There are guys who have worked really hard, guys who have been a part of this team in the past, were part of what we started here in 2009 and were part of a 10-6 season (last year).
"Some of those guys are not going to make this team."
If you do not think these moments matter, then you weren't paying attention last year. If the final week of the preseason is heartbreak for some, then it is a second chance for others. For at the same time they are preparing to trim their roster, the Bucs are also looking for ways to supplement their talent.
It was almost exactly this moment in 2010 when the Bucs added Dezmon Briscoe after the Bengals tried to hide him on their practice squad. A day later, the Bucs got Ted Larsen and Kregg Lumpkin on waivers. The day after that, they added LeGarrette Blount.
None of those moves were spur of the moment. Nothing happened by accident.
The Bucs spend time studying the depth charts and the injury lists of every team in the league, and anticipating which prospects might come available. Before heading to FedEx Field, Dominik and his crew were in hotel rooms watching tapes of other games.
A year ago, the Bucs were keeping a close watch on about 30 players around the league. This week they are focused on 15 to 20.
Most of them are players the Bucs had interest in coming out of the draft, but some have shown up unexpectedly in preseason tapes.
"There are three, four guys we have found that we did not have on the map that we did not consider drafting," Dominik said. "When we watch tape, we don't just single out certain plays by guys. Let's take LeGarrette Blount, for example. We didn't just focus on his runs at Tennessee last year. We try to watch the whole game to make sure nobody else flashes and catches your eye.
"If we see someone like that, then we go back in and really hone in on that one player. 'Oh, okay, it's that guy from Fiji State. Well, wait a second, we didn't have a big report on him.' So we go back in and buzz through all the preseason games and decide if he's claimable or a practice squad candidate or an emergency-use guy."
This week likely will be different from last year. The Bucs have fewer spots on the roster they feel need to be upgraded. They are less likely to make last-minute moves.
"That's a good thing," Dominik said. "Ideally you come to the point where you're just making tough cuts and people are taking your players. And I feel like we're getting really close to that point. Really close."
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.