After serving out a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Eric Wright is eligible to suit up in Sunday's finale at Atlanta.
That doesn't mean he'll play.
"He is back,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said Monday, "but I can't tell you right now without getting on the field and seeing where he is and formulating a plan. I think he'll be in shape. I've got to see what's the best thing for our football team, which I'm not sure of right now.''
The Bucs were 6-5 when Wright was suspended without pay on the day following a 24-23 home loss to the Falcons. That setback triggered a five-game tailspin that has ensured the team a losing record for the third time in the past four seasons.
"I don't think conditioning will be the issue,'' Schiano said, "but being in football shape is a little different.''
Why so slow?
Donald Penn believes he deserves an explanation.
Tampa Bay's veteran left tackle doesn't understand why officials didn't allow the Bucs to snap the ball quickly during a critical fourth-down play in Sunday's 28-13 loss to the Rams.
The Bucs had just forced a punt and Josh Freeman led a drive that stalled in the red zone late in the third quarter with St. Louis ahead by 15 points. Facing fourth-and-1 from the Rams 5-yard line, Freeman hurried up to the line … and waited.
"We sat there for almost 10 seconds,'' Penn said. "We were trying to catch them off guard and we already had a play called. The refs took forever, and I don't know what was taking so long.''
When Freeman finally plunged ahead on a quarterback sneak, he was met in the hole by LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar for no gain.
"No matter what, though, we should have converted it and we didn't,'' Penn said.
Coach Greg Schiano said he should have signaled for a timeout once he realized the Rams had adjusted to the hurry-up call.
"You learn as you go through it,'' Schiano said Monday, referring to the challenges of game-day management at the NFL level. "If you've never had to make the decisions, you're kidding yourself if you say, 'When I get there, I'll be fine.' "
One last chance
With a 13-2 record that includes a perfect 7-0 mark at home, the Falcons have already clinched the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed. With a 6-9 record, the Bucs will miss the postseason for the fifth consecutive year.
Sunday's game at the Georgia Dome could be viewed as a meaningless matchup, but Bucs players insist there's a lot on the line.
"We all have pride and we're not going to lay down because some people think the game doesn't matter,'' LB Adam Hayward said. "It matters, and we're going to play the Buc Way. Jobs are on the line. You're playing for yourself and you're playing for this football team. At the end of the day, you've got to put something productive on tape so you can guarantee at least another shot the following year.''
NFL rosters usually churn over in the offseason, and there's no reason to believe the Bucs will be any different.
"When you're 6-9, everybody's job is on the line,'' RT Demar Dotson said. "Let's face it, it's been a tough season.''
Schiano indicated injuries suffered by C Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) and CB E.J. Biggers (groin) on Sunday appear minor. …Rams QB Sam Bradford had been sacked at least once in 30 consecutive games, the NFL's longest active streak, until he emerged from Sunday's game unscathed. Tampa Bay's defense has registered fewer than two sacks in eight of 15 games this season. …The Bucs are 1-16 in the past two seasons when rushing for fewer than 100 yards. …If Tampa Bay loses Sunday and Carolina wins at New Orleans, the Bucs will finish last in the NFC South for the fifth time in the past nine seasons.