- Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2011

TAMPA, FLA. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are eager to show NFL fans across the nation their new identity on a prime time stage.

A team that was once accustomed to Monday Night Football, the Bucs have not hosted a game on that night in eight years.

Their previous appearance was three years ago _ an ugly loss that began a four-game, season-ending slide that kept them out of the playoffs and also cost former coach Jon Gruden his job.

All that’s history, though.

Tampa Bay (2-1) is building under Raheem Morris, who’s looking forward to showing off his young team against the Indianapolis Colts (0-3) on Monday night.

“I said in the locker room, it’s an opportunity to show everybody what they’ve been missing,” Morris said, adding that the absence of Colts star Peyton Manning will not take any luster off the occasion for the Bucs, who won 10 games last season and are off to another promising start.

“We’re going to a big time game and big time environment with a bunch of guys who haven’t done it before. Ronde Barber might be the only guy that’s played on Monday Night Football, coaches included, so it’s all hands on deck,” the NFL’s youngest coach said.

“Let’s go play a great game on a great stage and act like we’ve been there before,” the 35-year-old Morris said. “And the key to that is to go out there and use our formula. Play fast, play hard, play consistent and do what we do.”

Barber, 36 and in his 15th season, is the lone player remaining from Tampa Bay’s 2003 Super Bowl winner. He’s the oldest player on the league’s youngest team. He also knows what it’s like to be a young guy heading into his first Monday night game.

The Bucs were fixtures in prime time during their best years, when the roster had a collection of high-profile personalities, including Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Simeon Rice, Keyshawn Johnson, Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott.

“When we were good back in the 90’s and the early part of this decade, we were pretty well known. We had a lot of name guys. Guys who were popular across the league. We’ve yet to have that kind of exposure with the guys in this locker room, that kind of attention, so this is huge for us,” Barber said.

Coming off their Super Bowl title, the Bucs played on Monday night three times in 2003, going 2-1.

Barber will never forget the loss _ 38-35 in overtime to the Colts. Manning threw for 386 yards and Indianapolis overcame a 21-point deficit in the final five minutes of regulation.

“Believe me, that was a great game for 55 minutes. I scored a touchdown late on an interception, but they showed their resiliency,” Barber said.

“It was a frustrating loss. I still cringe when I look at those highlights on NFL Network as one of the best comebacks ever. This is our chance, this 2011 team, to prove who we are. I think we’re all excited about it.”

Colts coach Jim Caldwell and defensive end Dwight Freeney also were part of that game and remember what it meant for Indianapolis, as well as former coach, Tony Dungy, who was returning to Raymond James Stadium for the first time since being fired by the Bucs following the 2001 season.

It was played on Dungy’s birthday, although Freeney doesn’t recall learning that until the game was over.

“That’s one I always will remember, just based on the fact that everybody in the building thought we were going to lose,” said Freeney, who remembers receiving messages from people who called his telephone while the Bucs were building a 35-14 lead.

“We ended up winning the game, and that kind of became a staple for us as an organization and team that we never say quit, never say die,” Freeney added. “You never give up because you never know what might happen. That was an example of that.”

The Bucs were one of the league’s biggest surprises a year ago, winning 10 games but narrowly missed the playoffs. They lost this season’s opener to Detroit, but rebounded with wins over Minnesota and Atlanta.

Freeney understands why they might feel their success is going unnoticed.

“They are definitely a team to be reckoned with and not to take lightly. … But I do understand how this league is,” the Colts‘ star said. “It’s like a rookie who has a good year: Can you make it two years? … I can definitely see how they could be underappreciated, but I definitely respect them.”

Morris said the Bucs won’t underestimate Indianapolis, either.

The Colts are winless without Manning, who’s recovering from neck surgery. With Kerry Collins (concussion-like symptoms) status in doubt for Monday night, Curtis Painter could make his first NFL start.

“They’re running their system, they’re playing hard defense, they’re playing their style of offense, which is high tempo, run the football, do all the correct things, and they just haven’t been fortunate enough to win,” Morris said.

“We’ve got to go out there and not let anything creep into our head that we’re any bigger than what we are. We’re 2-1. We’re tied for the NFC South’s best team,” Morris added. “If we want to remain that we’ve got to play our best game. … Right now they’re struggling as far as wins and losses, but that could change any day.”