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Artificial turf a magic carpet

There was a time, not long ago, when the Bucs were bugged by playing on the rug. But artificial turf doesn't seem to bother them anymore. In fact, Tampa Bay has been more effective this season on the fake stuff.

That may bode well for the Bucs, who play four of their remaining eight games on artificial turf, beginning with Sunday's game against the Colts in the RCA Dome at Indianapolis.

"I think offensively, with some of the speed that we have, we're not as vulnerable on AstroTurf as maybe we've been in the past," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "Maybe another challenge, knowing it's a little difference surface, a different environment helps us get focused."

It certainly has kicked Warrick Dunn into gear. The Bucs rookie is averaging 115.5 yards rushing in two games on artificial turf.

FRONT-RUNNERS: Here's the key to the Bucs' success: build a lead. Tampa Bay is 3-0 when leading at halftime and the third quarter. It is 2-3 when trailing in the third quarter.

This is generally true of all NFL teams, although the offense has been particularly ineffective when trailing.

"We're better offensively and defensively when we're playing ahead," Dungy said. "We're better when the other team has to throw and we're putting pressure on them. We're better when we've got them off-balance on offense when we are ahead. But to win championships, you've got to play all kinds of ways. There's going to be games when you aren't going to be ahead."

INJURIES: TE Jackie Harris (groin) did not practice Thursday. His status will be determined at game time. LB Derrick Brooks sat out practice with a quad strain, but is expected to play. Dunn sustained a thigh bruise at the end of the workout but is okay.

WHO'S BLUE: The Colts are 0-8 and 4{-point underdogs. But only about 7,000 tickets remain. What's the attraction? Country music star Leann Rimes, 15, will perform a "free" concert for fans, 20 minutes after the game. Fans of Rimes must buy a ticket to the game to attend.

_ RICK STROUD

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