Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs Are Facing Harsh Reality
TAMPA - Bucs coach Jon Gruden addressed the media for the last time this season Monday dressed all in black. It was appropriate attire. It was a Monday as black as the Sunday that preceded it. One day after the Bucs' season ended with a 31-24 loss to the Raiders, a four-game losing streak and a 9-7 record, it sounded as though it could be a while before bright Sundays and Mondays return. Asked what he considers to be his team's strengths as he looks to rebuild it in the wake of the worst collapse in franchise history, Gruden stopped after listing the offensive line, the secondary and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud."We've got to pick it up in other areas and we'll do that," Gruden said. "I'm confident we can do it. We've done it before. We can do it again." It doesn't figure to be easy. Several key offensive players, including quarterback Jeff Garcia, leading receiver Antonio Bryant and tight end Jerramy Stevens, are heading for free agency. And the defense, the prime culprit in the Bucs' collapse, needs to regain its swagger in several critical areas. "We've got to get more of a pass rush," Gruden said. "We've got to get more turnovers. And we didn't defend the run well enough the last four games of the season." Those weren't the only areas in which the defense struggled down the stretch. During the last four games, the Bucs allowed opponents to convert 27 of 50 third downs and were outscored 62-19 in the fourth quarter and overtime. "We just seemed to make critical errors in key situations," Gruden said. "And as the head coach, I have to take responsibility for that." It remains Gruden's responsibility to correct the problems. Though his teams have missed the playoffs four times in the past six years, his job appears to be safe. That isn't sitting well with some Bucs fans, and Gruden, whose teams are 3-11 in December the past three years, says he understands why. "They have every right to feel the way they do," he said. "I'd just assure them that I'm doing the very best that I can. And I know this season didn't turn out the way we wanted it to. "The way we finished is somewhat disappointing to say the least. But we lost to some pretty good football teams. And 9-7 isn't a disgrace."
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979.