As the Bucs head out on the road this week vs. the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay will try to do something that has been quite a struggle for the last two seasons – win a game away from Raymond James Stadium. The travel schedule for the Bucs in the past two years has been unkind and they haven't had too many pleasant trips back home.
Tampa Bay has a combined record of 2-10 in road games in 2006 and 2007, but did get a big road victory vs. Carolina in Week 4. Despite a 1-3 record away from Tampa this season, the Bucs have put themselves in position to win road contests. Tampa Bay, however, has made too many mistakes at the wrong time that didn't allow them to make a play to win the game.
In Detroit, the Bucs had an opportunity to grab momentum in the second half with a time-consuming drive in the third quarter. However, quarterback Jeff Garcia fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line and the Lions drove the ball 93 yards for a touchdown that put the game out of reach.
In Seattle, Tampa Bay got off to a quick start with a 6-0 lead, but fell behind 13-6 in the second half. The Bucs let opportunities slip out of their hands vs. the Seahawks, like a fumble in the fourth quarter by running back Earnest Graham on a potential scoring drive, which ended in a 20-6 loss. The players realize that to get a win on the road, the Bucs must seize the opportunities when they arise.
"We just got to make plays. When plays are there to be made, we just have to make plays," running back Michael Pittman said. "We need to eliminate turnovers. The crowd is always a factor so we have to take the crowd out of the game so we can hear. I remember playing against Indianapolis when they were beating up on us early and the crowd was in the game and it's hard to hear the snap count and guys were late off the ball. We need to go out there and establish the running game, control the clock and do what we have to do to win the game."
Another reason that could allow the Bucs to be successful on the road is getting out to an early lead. In the Week 4 contest vs. Carolina, the Bucs jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the game and was able to use the running attack in the second half and be more aggressive defensively.
"We have to start fast. We always say that about every game, but if you look at the games, we started fast in Carolina and we won that game," right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. "We have to start fast and start away games with momentum and if we do that then we will have a chance."
During his tenure with the Bucs, including this season, head coach Jon Gruden is 18-26 on the road. However, from 2002-06, he has had just two losing records on the road with Tampa Bay going 1-7 on the road in 2004 and 2006. Tampa Bay finished with a 5-11 record in 2004 and a 4-12 record in 2006.
The Bucs have three winnable road games remaining at Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco. The Dec. 2 road trip to New Orleans is the only game that is up for grabs and most likely will determine who will win the NFC South division.
"It is what it is. Your schedule works its way out the way it's suppose to work out," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "There's nothing we can do about that. We've been pretty poor on the road this year, but that can't be a factor down the stretch. We want to be a playoff team."
TRUEBLOOD PLANS TO APPEAL FINE Buccaneers right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was recently fined $15,000 by the NFL for impermissible contact with a game official during Tampa Bay's 17-10 win over Arizona, plans to appeal his suspension, according to several published reports.
Trueblood was ejected and flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the final two minutes of the game vs. Arizona after he engaged in a shoving match with some members of the Cardinals' defensive line, including defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. During the incident, Trueblood inadvertently made contact with an official.
Although the Bucs accused the Cardinals of attempting to swat the ball before it was snapped on the final series of the game, no Cardinals players were fined for Sunday's incident at Raymond James Stadium.
FALCONS AREN'T A GIMME WIN FOR BUCS Despite a slow start to the season, the Atlanta Falcons have quietly won two games in a row as the Bucs head to the Georgia Dome this weekend. With a 20-13 victory on Sunday vs. the Carolina Panthers, the Falcons did a favor for the Bucs as the loss, along with the Saints loss to St. Louis, put Tampa Bay in sole possession of first place in the NFC South with a 5-4 record.
However, the Falcons, who are now 3-6 this season, are looking to make life as miserable for the Bucs on Sunday so none of the players are taking Atlanta too lightly.
"Atlanta is a better team than their record shows. Just turn the film on and you see that," Barber said. "There not generating a lot of big plays and that is part of the reason they are where they are, but this is a good football team."
The Falcons offense hasn't been impressive this season with a new offensive system put in by head coach Bobby Petrino and a new quarterback in Joey Harrington. Atlanta is ranked 27th in total offense in the NFL this season. However, the defense has kept them in a lot of games, causing 18 turnovers this season. Atlanta is at plus-9 in turnover ratio, which is something that has caught the eye of Gruden.
"There defense is playing top-flight football. They don't give up many yards, and don't give up many plays," Gruden said. "I have a lot of respect for [Mike] Zimmer, their defensive coordinator. He's tremendous; [defensive backs coach] Emmitt Thomas, those guys are great. They are protecting the ball on offense. They lead the NFC in turnover ratio, they're plus-9. John Abraham is a fierce competitor and a great player. Rod Coleman is back from the offseason injury and had a couple of sacks yesterday. Their two corners really impress me and Lawyer Milloy is still Lawyer Milloy. They've got a lot going for themselves."
CLAYTON, PITTMAN FEELING GOOD Running back Michael Pittman and wide receiver Michael Clayton were happy to be back at practice on Monday. After participating in a walk-thru last week, this was the first time that both players were able to run around and simulate game-type situations.
Even though both players feel they are ready to play, Gruden wasn't ready to insert Clayton or Pittman into the lineup.
"Maybe so, I really don't know," Gruden said. "They both ran around a little bit today and we could probably answer that better when we see them out here on Wednesday. We hope to have a couple guys back, but we will see."
Pittman is coming back from ligament damage in his ankle that occurred in a Week 5 contest vs. Indianapolis. Clayton was out for two weeks after a high ankle sprain that he sustained in a loss vs. Detroit.
Clayton was just starting to become a weapon again in the offense before his injury and is looking to pick up where he left off. He has six receptions for 109 yards (18.2 avg.) this season and with the lack of depth at wide receiver, the Bucs need more production from Clayton. Tampa Bay lost wide receiver Paris Warren for the season with a leg injury and released wide receiver David Boston after Week 1.
The bye week came at a good time for Clayton, along with other players such as Pittman, defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder), linebacker Quincy Black (hamstring) and defensive end Greg Spires (calf) to get healthy.
"It helped out a lot. We got a lot of guys back this week and it makes this team that much stronger," Clayton said. "It came at a good time. Unfortunately I got injured, but I had a month for it to heal and I feel good about where I am."
Pittman's return gives the Bucs three healthy running backs in the backfield along with Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett. Pittman has gained 169 yards (4.8 avg.) on 35 carries this season and has 11 receptions for 94 yards (8.5 avg.) as well. He is looking forward to getting back on the field and helping this team make a run at the playoffs.
"It was a good week for me to have off. I got treatment all week and I'm confident in my ankle and just trying to help this team win," Pittman said. "Me, Earnest and Michael are three backs that can play. We all can catch, block and do different types of things coming out the backfield. So I'm very excited to be back."
Even though the players feel that the bye week came at a good time, Gruden isn't an advocate of having an off-week. He did, however, take the opportunity to catch the Falcons victory vs. Carolina on Sunday due to the extra free time.
"I'm not a big fan of byes really. You kind of get into a rhythm and it is what it is. It gives you a chance to see some of the other teams play also," Gruden said. "You have to have respect for what Atlanta has done, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. They lead the NFC in turnover ratio and they are right back in the thick of things. So it's obvious that this is a great big game for us."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Cornerback Keiwan Ratliff on how he felt to be signed by the Bucs.
"I'm still on cloud nine right now. This is just the best day for me. This is like my birthday when I was five or six. It's just one of those things where I have a helmet in my hand, a jersey on and I'm walking into the locker room. So it's just a great feeling right now."
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