Published: Oct 15, 2004

TAMPA - You could stock a Pro Bowl team just from the NFL's talent-laden injury list as the league struggles to protect its players.
Injuries have hit particularly hard in Carolina, where DT Kris Jenkins is out for the season and WR Steve Smith suffered a broken fibula last month.

RB Stephen Davis may return for the reeling Panthers on Sunday.

``Each year, you feel the significance of so many important players who get hurt,'' said Bucs GM Bruce Allen, who also has a lengthy list of players who are sidelined. ``Football is a violent sport, and it's fantastic partly because it is a violent game.''

The Redskins haven't been able to overcome a season-ending Achilles' tear to RT Jon Jansen, Oakland QB Rich Gannon is sidelined with a broken vertebrae and Lions WR Charles Rogers broke his collarbone for the second consecutive season.

``Players are better conditioned and treated better than they were years ago,'' Allen said, ``but injuries still happen. There are accidents in NASCAR, too. But every injury also gives somebody an opportunity. We might not know about Tom Brady if Drew Bledsoe didn't get injured.''

Speaking of the Patriots, New England won the Super Bowl last season despite topping the NFL with 231 games missed because of injury.

START ME UP: The Bucs are the third team that QB Brian Griese has played for, and he will maintain a tradition by making his first start for Tampa Bay in a Monday night game.

Griese's first pro start came in a Monday night encounter in 1999 when his Denver Broncos opened their season against the Dolphins. Griese's team lost that game, 38-21.

Three years later, Griese made his first start for the Dolphins in a Monday night game against the Chargers. This time around he won, 26-10, in a game played in Tempe, Ariz., because of fires in southern California.

``I've had some great times on `Monday Night Football,' '' Griese said. ``I'm looking forward to another one this week.''

This will be Griese's 11th appearance in a Monday night game. His record is 4-6.

``I love playing on `Monday Night Football,' '' Griese said. ``I think if you ask guys around the league about it, they'll all tell you it's special because all your peers are watching.''

TAKE A BOW: St. Louis coach Mike Martz can't say enough about the job Bill Belichick is doing with the Patriots, who take a record 19-game winning streak into Sunday's game against Seattle.

``Bill Belichick is clearly the diamond of coaches in this league,'' said Martz, 48-26 since being hired by the Rams in 2000. ``One of the best things he does is he keeps everyone level-headed. He keeps their feet on the ground because he's got his feet on the ground.''

In 2001, Martz led the Rams to the NFC title before losing to Belichick's Patriots, 20-17, in the Super Bowl on a last-second field goal.

BUCS BITS: The Bucs have won six consecutive games on artificial turf, including the playoffs. ... DL Ellis Wyms was added to the injury report with a lower back strain. He is listed as probable. ... DE Simeon Rice, who missed Wednesday's workout with a migraine headache, was back at practice Thursday. ... The Rams are 5-for-5 on fourth-down conversions this season.

Ira Kaufman, Roy Cummings