Rams, Bucs to put rivalry, struggles on national stage

Monday, October 18, 2004

Rams captain Tyoka Jackson will likely miss the Monday Night Football game against his former team.

By R.B. Fallstrom ~ The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Of all times to be injured, Tyoka Jackson is about to miss his biggest rivalry game.

The St. Louis defensive lineman is doubtful for tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for whom he played for five seasons, because of a pulled left hamstring. By his count he'd missed only one practice in his career before getting hurt.

"This is a bad time for me right now," Jackson said. "I don't like missing practices and the thought of missing a game is just killing me, it's tearing my heart out -- especially against these guys."

The Rams (3-2) and Bucs (1-4) were two of the NFC's premier teams earlier in this decade and this will be their fourth straight meeting tonight. Tampa Bay has won the last four regular-season matchups, although the Rams beat the Buccaneers in the 1999 NFC championship game en route to their only Super Bowl victory.

Both teams have struggled early this season, although both are coming off perhaps their best game. The Rams rallied from a 17-point deficit in the final six minutes of regulation before beating the Seahawks in overtime. The Bucs, after an 0-4 start two years after their Super Bowl championship, rallied behind second-string quarterback Brian Griese to beat the Saints.

Jackson left the Bucs as a free agent in 2000 for the Rams, where he's become a team captain. So the series has special meaning to him.

But he put his odds of playing at less than 10 percent.

"I want to be out there bad, especially against my former team on Monday night in an NFC game where we really need a win to keep these good things going," Jackson said. "I want to be a part of that. If you're limping around, you can't help anyone out."

Jackson was hurt in the first quarter of the Seahawks game when Matt Hasselbeck evaded a sack.

"Hasselbeck is a strong quarterback and he's evasive and he stepped up in the pocket just as I was trying to hit him," Jackson said. "It slung me around and my leg kind of went out and I guess it put too much stress on the hamstring.

"If I make the sack, the injury is not there, so I've got really no one to blame but myself and Hasselbeck."

The Rams know better than to overlook the Bucs. For one thing, Tampa Bay's lone victory came against a team that beat St. Louis.

For another, the Rams don't want to spoil the momentum their comeback created. Before that game the Seahawks appeared poised to become the new power in the NFC West.

"Every game we play is bigger and bigger and bigger," Jackson said. "Going out and laying an egg here makes that game last week look like nothing."

The Bucs will give Griese his first start of the season after he went 16-for-19 for 194 yards and the winning score in a 20-17 victory over New Orleans. Griese started five games for the Dolphins last year after being released by the Broncos, where he was the starter for four seasons.

"The guy is cool as a cucumber," wide receiver Tim Brown said. "All day Sunday he just kept on saying 'I just want to go out and have fun, man.'

"Once he got the opportunity his demeanor never changed."

He'll be the third quarterback to start this year for the Bucs. Brad Johnson started the first four games before getting benched and Chris Simms made his first career start last week before leaving with a sprained shoulder.

The Bucs' strength remains their defense, especially against the pass. They've held opposing quarterbacks to a 49.5 percent completion rate.

"Ronde Barber is playing as well as he's ever played," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "With the speed they have at the linebacker position and the rush they can get with four guys, they play terrific pass defense."

Coming off that late flurry last week, the Rams' offense should provide a stiff test. Marc Bulger threw for 325 yards after being held to 52 in the first half last week. Isaac Bruce became the first player to start the season with four consecutive 100-yard games before being held to 78 yards on six catches last week, and the Rams are developing a strong 1-2 punch at running back with Marshall Faulk and first-round pick Steven Jackson.

"They lead the league in presenting challenges," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "They've got all the key components necessary to be a great team."

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