- The Washington Times - Friday, November 11, 2005

The Bucs have lost their bearings since the injury to Brian Griese and painful emergence of Chris Simms. Six years of consistent success in Tampa Bay culminated in a Super Bowl title after the 2002 season under new coach Jon Gruden. A standard had been set. So even though the Buccaneers have rebounded with a 5-3 record this season after going 12-20 the last two seasons, all is not well. “We’re a little frustrated,” admitted cornerback Brian Kelly, one of eight defensive starters left from the 2002 champions. After a 4-0 start, the frustration began with losses to the struggling New York Jets and San Francisco as the offense scored just one touchdown despite the return of record-setting rookie runner Carnell Williams, who missed two games with leg injuries. “Cadillac” lived up to his nickname with 148, 128 and 158 yards in his first three games but has been a Yugo since with 62 yards on 35 carries. “I think we had 13 rushes of one yard or less,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said after the stunning loss to the 49ers. “After you hit your head up against the wall 13 times, maybe there’s a better way to get some yards, know what I mean.” But with veteran quarterback Griese lost for the season in Week 6, Gruden’s better way was the inexperienced Simms — the son of Phil — who has his dad’s arm but as of yet, little of his moxie. “You can’t keep saying it’s Chris’ fourth start or his fifth start or his third year or his eighth year,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to win some games and it starts with him. He’s getting better. He’s doing some good things. He’s working at it and we’ve got to help him a little bit.” Simms didn’t get much help in last week’s 34-14 poun ding by visiting Carolina, the Bucs’ only opponent so far with a winning record. The Panthers and defending NFC South champion Atlanta are both 6-2 and already ahead of Tampa Bay in the division race. “We physically got beaten by a quality team,” said Gruden, who was particularly upset with how his young offensive line was steamrollered by the Panthers’ front. “You can dwell on the negatives [or] you can do something about it and roll your fist up and play a … lot better this Sunday.” That game — against 5-3 Washington — starts a second half in which Tampa Bay faces six playoff contenders. “The meat of our schedule is right now,” Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber said. “We need to start playing better football.” But with their confidence already shaken, the Bucs could snowball downhill quicker than Hurricane Wilma blew across Florida. “We’re a work in progress in some places,” Gruden said. “We’ve got a long way to go to get this to where we want it to go. I’m not going to sit here, paint a bleak picture and build excuses.” But then he did just that. “It’s hard to make significant improvements until you have your salary cap situation straightened out [to the point] where you can get some players and have all of your draft picks,” Gruden said in a shot at former general manager Rich McKay. The coach didn’t mention that only four choices from his first four drafts are starting or that his 2002 acquisition from Oakland cost Tampa Bay two first-rounders and a second-rounder. There’s not even any satisfaction in having the NFL’s top defense. That’s true in part because Tampa Bay’s defense has always been in the top 10 under 10th-year coordinator Monte Kiffin and because the Bucs have just 16 sacks, fewer than all but three NFC rivals, and only 15 takeaways, fewer than six NFC rivals. “We’ve certainly been missing the dynamic, game-changing type of plays that we’re accustomed to seeing,” Gruden said. “We’re not playing as well as we want to,” Kelly said. “We’ve won playing great defense. It’s not going to change.” But unless the Bucs make some changes in a hurry, they’ll join the 1967 Green Bay Packers as the only Super Bowl champions to miss the playoffs in the following three seasons.

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