- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

They've met 47 times over 25 years. They've played in boiling heat and freezing cold. They've played in two stadiums (Milwaukee's County and Tampa's Big Sombrero) that have been demolished. They've even faced each other in a second-round playoff game.
But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers have never squared off as the NFL's top two teams, as they will Sunday when the 8-2 squads get it on in Tampa in the latest Battle of the Bays.
The Bucs have the NFL's most feared defense, allowing just 12 points a game, and have a sack in 54 straight contests. The Packers have the NFL's most feared quarterback, three-time MVP Brett Favre. Tampa Bay All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp termed it, "the ultimate weapon vs. the immovable object."
Although much has been made of the Bucs' cold-weather failures they haven't won in Green Bay since 1989 the Pack has lost four in a row at Tampa Bay.
"I don't think we have a hold on them we've just been fortunate to make plays to win," said Tampa Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks, aware that six of the past seven meetings have been decided by five or fewer points. "We've gotten leads in the fourth quarter and held them off."
With Green Bay now in the NFC North and Tampa Bay in the NFC South, the battle is no longer for the NFC Central title but for home-field advantage. Unless they finish in the same place in their divisions or meet in the playoffs, they won't play again until 2005.
"I'm not going to miss them much," Favre said of the Bucs.
Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice is more pumped than the Packers' superstar.
"It's a phenomenal situation," Rice said. "What could be better? In the weeks prior, we really set the stage for this to be really special and something that a lot of fans want to see. It's going to be a joy to be there, a joy to play, and a joy to watch."
And perhaps, as Rice said with an eye on postseason, "a prelude of things to come."
Awful deja vu Pittsburgh receiver Terance Mathis was with New York when Jets defensive end Dennis Byrd was paralyzed in a 1992 game, so Mathis was especially affected when Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox's arms and legs went numb after he was tackled Sunday by Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck. Thankfully, Maddox is recovering and could be back as soon as next week.
"It's the same reaction all over again," Mathis said. "When the gurney comes out, the EMS truck comes out, it's a scary, scary feeling. It doesn't take a devastating blow. It could happen to anybody."
Bulluck was a teammate at Syracuse of Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia quarterback who somehow played almost the entire game Sunday and threw a career-high four touchdown passes despite what now appears to be a season-ending broken ankle. Unlike Maddox, McNabb figures to miss the rest of the season and maybe the playoffs.
Not too bright The frustration of seven straight losses after a 3-0 start boiled over for Carolina's Steve Smith, who got into a fight with teammate Anthony Bright during Monday's receivers meeting. Smith, who leads the Panthers with 38 catches and is their return specialist, was suspended for Sunday's game with Atlanta by coach John Fox.
Bright, who needed plastic surgery to fix his broken nose, was hospitalized for two nights. Smith and Bright argued briefly over a play that had been reviewed several times and the incident escalated into a fight that lasted less than a minute before being broken up by other players.
"The lights were off, and then all hell broke loose," receiver Isaac Byrd said.
Bright, an Arena League veteran who had yet to catch a pass, is expected to miss the rest of the year. Smith apologized in a statement issued by the team. This wasn't Smith's first such altercation. Several players told the Charlotte Observer that he fought Guilian Gary in a dormitory during training camp before the rookie from Maryland was cut.
Four digits Oakland's Tim Brown will join teammate Jerry Rice and Miami's Cris Carter as the only members of the 1,000-catch club with his third grab Sunday at Arizona.
"There's not much that excites me when it comes to records, but to get there would be very exciting," Brown said.
Going for broke Cincinnati has lost 38 straight road games to teams with winning records heading into Sunday's date at 5-4-1 Pittsburgh. The Bengals' last such victory came against a 6-5 Steelers team Dec.2, 1990.
Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna needs to play in 80 percent of the offensive snaps this season to earn a $1.625million bonus in 2003. Kitna has played 431 of 642 (67 percent) so far, but now that he's entrenched as the starter, he figures to play all of the remaining projected 385. That would be 816 of 1,027 or 79.45 percent. So close, yet


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