Hello again Bucs fans and welcome to the test out west with the San Diego Chargers. When we last left team Tampa Bay, it was snorkeling defensively before going under against Dallas.
The Bucs need to resurface this afternoon at Jack Murphy Stadium if they plan to stick around in the NFC Central race long enough to make it a November to remember.
Tampa Bay will be without starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who is taking the week off to heal his turf toe. So backup Chris Chandler will start against the Chargers and free agent Jeff Carlson will move to No. 2.
Tampa Bay has only won one of 13 games on the west coast, and as if three times zones weren't enough, this morning everybody sets their clocks back an hour.
No matter. By any watch, it's time for the Bucs to take advantage of their fifth-place schedule, having already lost both games to Dallas _ 2-19 against the rest of the league the last two seasons.
A home date with Chicago, followed by consecutive road games at New Orleans, San Francisco and Milwaukee (Green Bay) await the Bucs. San Diego never looked so good.
Most likely hero
Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Chandler. Making his first start as a Buccaneer, Chandler could fatten his stats and his wallet this afternoon. A win would make him $20,000 richer _ an incentive clause in his contract gives him $15,000 for a start and $20,000 for a start and a win _ and prove the Bucs wiser for trading their No. 1 draft pick in 1992 to the Colts.
Chandler has been effective in two regular-season relief roles and threw what appeared to be the clinching touchdown against Dallas last week before a penalty erased the score.
For San Diego, the hero candidate is running back Marion Butts. His powerful running style could keep the ball out of the hands of the Bucs' offense and take some heat off Chargers quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver.
Most likely goat
The Bucs' defense. Opposing teams are piling up yards but not points. This is the week when Tampa Bay's offense could break out while the defense breaks down.
Rodney Rice and Mark Robinson took a lot of criticism for yielding the winning touchdown pass against Dallas, but it was the offense that kept putting the Bucs' D in the hole.
San Diego has a powerful ground game and the AFC's top rusher in Butts. If Tolliver finds the mark, the Bucs' defense could spend a lot of time in the California sun.
However, Tolliver has been suspect and so is the Chargers' passing game. If Tolliver cannot do the job, backup Mark Vlasic can deliver.
Bucs tailback Gary Anderson. Talk all you want about how he holds no grudge against the Chargers, but Anderson is a proud man who would love nothing better than to beat his former owner Alex Spanos, a man with tight fists around his wallet.
Despite what sometimes seems like supernatural talent, Anderson is quite human. He wants to prove to Chargers fans he was worth the extra loot, and should give the Bucs a tremendous lift inside the 20s.
But forgive Anderson if his mind is 3,000 miles away. Wife Ollie is expecting the couple's fourth child any day now.
The last time a quarterback not named Testaverde directed the Bucs to a regular-season win? It was Nov. 1, 1987, when Steve DeBerg led the Bucs to a 23-17 win at Green Bay, their final victory that season.
From Bucs defensive back Rodney Rice: "I'm my own worst enemy. After a game, I get all stressed out about the way things went whether I play well or not. It's made me a better player, but I've got to learn to relax. It can drive you crazy."
_ RICK STROUD