Tampa Bay host the 'big-time environment' against the Colts for the first time in eight years tonight.
Buccaneers coach Morris is after a happy Monday
TAMPA, Florida // The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are eager to show NFL fans 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 play-offs and cost Jon Gruden his job as coach.
All that is history, though.
Tampa Bay are rebuilding under Raheem Morris, who is looking forward to showing off his young team against the Indianapolis Colts in the nationally televised game tonight.
"I said in the locker room, it's an opportunity to show everybody what they've been missing," Morris, the NFL's youngest coach, said.
"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.
"Let's go play a great game on a great stage and act like we've been there before. 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."
Morris said the absence of Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis quarterback, will not take any lustre off the occasion for the Bucs, who won 10 games last season and are off to another promising start.
Barber, 36 and in his 15th season, is the lone player remaining from Tampa Bay's 2003 Super Bowl-winning team. He is the oldest player on the league's youngest team. He also knows what it is 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 90s and the early part of this decade, we were pretty well known," Barber said. "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."
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."
Tonight's game is important for the Colts as well, who look unrecognisable for many reasons, not the least of which is an 0-3 record and no Manning at quarterback.
Manning is recovering from off-season surgery to his neck, and with Kerry Collins, his back-up, still recovering from concussion-like symptoms after getting beat up by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis will turn to Curtis Painter, who will be making his first NFL start at quarterback.
"You can really only get one ready, just in terms of the amount of time you have and the time you get on the field," Jim Caldwell, the Colts coach, said. "It's very difficult to get two guys prepared to play a ball game. He's [Painter] getting all of the work and I think he'll benefit from that."
Caldwell said Painter is looking forward to the opportunity.
"He's pretty excited about that, there's no question about it," Caldwell said. "You can see it. He's always pretty levelheaded, never too high, never too low, but you can certainly see the focus and intensity in his eyes."
As a rookie, he famously stepped in for Manning to try to preserve Indy's unbeaten season. The 14-0 Colts pulled their starters in the third quarter against the New York Jets, and Painter's introduction to NFL regular-season play was swift and cruel.
On the first play of his second series, the former Purdue quarterback was hit from behind by Calvin Pace. Marques Douglas recovered the fumble and scored, and a two-point conversion pass from Mark Sanchez to Dustin Keller made it 18-15. The Jets eventually won the game 29-15 as Painter was held to only completing four of 11 passes for 44 yards with an interception.