Oates: 49ers, Pack survive cap hell

For the Bucs, wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and halfback Warrick Dunn didn't play and quarterback Brad Johnson went only one series. The Bucs used nine of 11 starters on defense, but they played less than three minutes and never returned.

As much as it had the feel of a preseason game, however, Sunday's game might not be so meaningless after all. In fact, it might be just what the Bucs needed.

You see, last year they closed their season with a hugely disappointing road loss to the Packers in overtime, a loss that cost them home-field advantage and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The following week they traveled to Philadelphia for a wild-card game and performed dismally in a 20-3 loss.

This year, the Bucs will show up in an entirely different frame of mind. They won five of their six games prior to the "preseason" loss and they will be well-rested after what essentially was a bye week.

"We have something to prove to ourselves," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We went up there and got embarrassed last year."

It's not likely they'll be embarrassed like that again.

Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal writes an NFC column every week for ESPN.com.

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