TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Even during the best of times, the Vikings (2-5) haven't been able to handle theTampa Bay Bucs (6-2) on the road, taking their only regular-season loss here in 1998, and losing 41-13 in 2000 despite bringing a 7-0 record to town.
Throw in last year's 41-14 pounding and you can understand why Vikings coach Mike Tice was eager to change the routine for this week's trip to Tampa. The Vikings arrived a day earlier than usual, changed hotels and imposed an earlier curfew for Saturday night.
But there's only so much a coach can accomplish with routine. To end the team's road frustrations, the Vikings will have to play better, too.
Tampa Bay has the NFL's top-ranked defense and is allowing a league-low 10.6 points per game. The Bucs' injury-riddled offense sputtered in last week's 12-9 victory over Carolina. However, Minnesota is bracing itself for a big dose of Mike Alstott.
Tampa Bay's 248-pound Pro Bowl fullback ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings last year. The Minnesota defense is determined to not be pounded into submission again.
MINNESOTA (2-5) At TAMPA BAY (6-2)
Noon p.m., FOX
SERIES RECORD -- Vikings lead series 31-17.
KEY MATCHUP -- Vikings defense vs. Buccaneers offense. Until last week, Vikings hadn't held opponent to seven points in past 36 games, dating to September 2000. Bucs haven't scored an offensive touchdown in last two games. Vikings had six sacks, intercepted two passes, had a safety, recovered a fumble and allowed just 44 yards rushing.
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES -- This is first non-division game between clubs. ... Minnesota had control of ball for 41:03 vs. Chicago, most in NFL this year. ... Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper and WR Randy Moss need three TDs to become most prolific scoring tandem in club history.
"I tell you what, I kept (330-pound defensive tackle) Darius Holland on this roster for this game -- because they shoved the ball down our throats," Tice said. "It was demoralizing. They can beat us however they want to beat us, but they're not going to shove the ball down our throats."
Alstott gained 126 yards and scored twice in Tampa Bay's win over Cleveland three weeks ago. But he has only gained 100 yards combined in the team's other seven games, with Gruden focusing on getting running back Michael Pittman on track.
The coach was coy about how Alstott might fit into this week's game plan, considering his previous success against Minnesota.
"We would like to get Mike Pittman a history against the Minnesota Vikings, too," Gruden said.
"We always look at past performances. ... But, at the same time, Minnesota's got a lot of different guys on defense. They've got a different head coach and it doesn't do you much good, honestly, other than if you want to check up on years past. You can do that, but we're not going to count on last year giving us any juice this year. We're going to get what we deserve and we've got to play a lot better."
The Vikings are coming off their most complete performance in a 25-7 victory over the Chicago Bears. It's not a coincidence they had only one turnover after producing 20 in their first six games.
Despite Minnesota's record and problems at Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs say the Vikings, averaging nearly 381 yards per game on offense, will always be dangerous as long as Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss are in the lineup.
They should know, because Tampa Bay has had its share of misery at the Metrodome, losing there each of the past four seasons.
"It's funny, because everyone has talked about their struggles and you look at the statistics ... and they have the No. 4 offense in the league," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "They still have No. 11 and No. 84, and they have had a lot of plays on offense because I think their defense has been struggling, giving up touchdowns rather quickly."
While the Bucs are looking to improve to 7-2 for just the second time in team history, injuries are a growing concern.
Defensive tackle Anthony McFarland is out for up to two months after breaking his left forearm, and four key members of the offense -- quarterback Brad Johnson, guard Kerry Jenkins and receivers Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius -- are hurting.
Johnson, however, is expected to play after sitting out last week with a broken rib and stomach virus.
Gruden said that should only help an offense that's ranked 24th.
"He's a proven winner, not only this year but previous years," the coach said. "He's a leader, a captain on this football team, and a guy that has taken the majority of the snaps, at least for the last couple months. When your starting quarterback returns, that's got to be a plus."
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