FUMBLES CONTINUE TO BE A PROBLEM FOR BUCS:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had trouble trying to explain the costly fumbles that fullback Mike Alstott and running back Michael Pittman had during Sunday’s 21-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Pittman’s fumble, which was his fifth in the past nine games, came late in the fourth quarter when the Bucs were trying to run the clock out with a three-point lead. That turnover led to the Saints’ game-winning touchdown.

“It has been a problem here this year,” Gruden said of Pittman’s fumbling. “We have had 14 fumbles. We had a couple others in the game last night. It is just an inexcusable act by a back. You have to protect the ball. Mike knows that. All I can say is that this is very unfortunate. It is an area that we have to continue to address here.”

Gruden actually disagreed with the call on the field that Pittman fumbled the ball.

“I thought he was down,” said Gruden. “I think the tape, you can look at it at a certain angle maybe and not quite be sure. I think that is what the case was last night. I believe he was down. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ruled in our favor. Again, in that situation, it shouldn’t even come down to that I believe. We should use better ball security and not even give replay a chance to be a part of the game.”

Although he was critical of those mistakes, Gruden said he takes responsibility for the costly turnovers.

“Someone has to stand up here and take responsibility,” said Gruden. “I call the plays. I have a lot to do with the design. I think a lot more of Michael Pittman than just as a fumbler. I think he is a very good back. I think he has great talent. I think what he has done this year, missing the first three games; coming in here with 1,200-yards of all-purpose yardage is a tremendous accomplishment. When you are the head coach, you are responsible for all of the things that go wrong. You can’t just take credit for all of the things that go right. With that being said, you have to be thick-skinned. You have to be able to accept criticism when things go wrong.”

NFC PLAYOFF RACE:
Sunday’s loss to New Orleans dropped Tampa Bay 5-9 on the season. Despite the fact that the Bucs trail six teams for the sixth and final NFC Wild Card playoff spot, head coach Jon Gruden said he wants his team to finish strong.

“We have two weeks left,” Gruden said. “We have had some of the most difficult losses of my career here in the last couple of years. Last night was one of them. I am looking at 11 or 12 games in the last two years that are hard to explain how we lose. I take full responsibility for it, but at the same time, it is hard to swallow. This one is devastating. This one here is very hard to recover from, but we will just count on the resiliency of our coaches, our players and hopefully, we learn a valuable lesson about the four-minute drill. You have a lead in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game, you’re up by 10 with six minutes to go, we’re going to run the ball. Obviously, they are going to try to strip the ball and get it back. The only enemy is the clock. We have that special category, that period of practice in training camp two or three times a week. When it gets down to that situation last night, we don’t get it done.”

Gruden is having a difficult time digesting the way the Bucs have found ways to lose games this season.

“Last night, there were some freakish plays,” Gruden said. “Let’s be honest. The opening kickoff rolls through a man’s leg and we had five or six players basically in a position to knock him down at the five-yard line. The next thing I know, it is 7-0 with 14:50 to go in the first quarter. I have never lost a game like that and I have said that before. I get in here at three o’clock in the morning to come up with game plans to win. I feel like I am coming up with a script for how we are going to destruct here. I have to take responsibility for that. I am very discouraged with the way we have lost games. Stunned, is a better word, but what can I say. We are going to get back to work here and try to improve in the areas where we need to.”

Although the Bucs will finish the season with their second consecutive losing season, Gruden insists that his team is not a bad one.

“I don’t think we’re a bad team,” said Gruden. “We obviously do some evil things. We do some evil things. Great teams, playoff teams, don’t do the things that we’ve done this year. Absolutely we’re going to continue to build the football team. We need to address certain areas and we’ll talk about that in the offseason. But this team here, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is one of the few teams in the league that, for 14 weeks, has been in position to win. It’s not like we’re sitting up here declaring a 38-7 game or something of that nature. We had a 10-point lead with 3:44 to go last night. That’s a credit to the Saints. They’re playing for their life also. It’s just a very, very tragic defeat for us.”

NO SIMMS YET:
Despite the fact that the Bucs are all but eliminated from the NFC playoff hunt, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he has no plans to play backup quarterback Chris Simms against the Panthers on Sunday.

“Not at this stage, no,” Gruden said of playing Simms. “I think Brian is playing very well. I would like to give Chris some snaps. I think he is a talent. He’s a young guy that I am excited about. I am also very impressed and encouraged by what Brian has done. Unfortunately, we have been unable to get a couple of these fish in the boat, but I do have a lot of confidence that Chris Simms is going to be a player here and a darn good one.”

However, Gruden did suggest he would try to work in some younger players over the final two regular season contests.

“We are trying to do that,” Gruden said. “We’re seeing a little bit more of Earnest Graham and certainly Ian Smart. Sean Mahan, I don’t believe is the most experienced center. He’ll continue to play. We have moved Dewayne White around. He’s played inside and out. We may look at a couple more guys to see where they are, but at the same time, we do have a pretty good feel for where we are for next season. We have a long way to go until training camp next year. We’ll talk about some of those things in the offseason.”

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