In the Buccaneers' 27-24 overtime win against the Chicago Bears; there were a few fights that broke out between Tampa Bay's offensive linemen and the Bears defenders. After the first play of the game, offensive tackle Donald Penn was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his role in a tussle that was started between Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris and Bucs guard Arron Sears.
In overtime, a fight broke out with Bears cornerback Charles Tillman getting flagged for a personal foul that kept Tampa Bay's winning drive alive. The fight started in a pile-up between the offensive line and defensive line. Replays showed Bucs offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood swinging at defenders, but there have been responses that Trueblood was swinging back after a cheap shot from the Bears. The rumble spilled into the end zone with Tillman going after Bucs receiver Michael Clayton. After the game and in the days following, there have been accusations that the Bucs are a dirty team and have that reputation around the league. Center Jeff Faine spoke about the offensive line and the allegations of dirty play on Wednesday.
"I just want to reiterate that I definitely revel in it," said Faine. "I love the idea that defensive line's are complaining about our play. I don't think we are cheap shot artists. I think that if you sat them down with tape and asked them to show where were the cheap shots at, they would be hard pressed to show that. We are a bunch of guys that like to play hard and through the whistle, and really get after it.
"It is not like when an interception is thrown that they aren't looking around trying to light us up. It is what it is. We're just going out there and having fun with it."
Trueblood was not concerned about what the Bears players were saying. He said he was focused on preparing for the Packers, but did clarify his stance on walking the line between playing hard and playing dirty.
"On any given Sunday, it's a thin line – it's a mutual respect line that we tip-toe every week," Trueblood said. "I try to be respectful. I think everyone else tries to be respectful, but sometimes people's tempers flare. It's a game that is meant to be physical. If we were going to run around here and not be physical then we wouldn't wear pads. I'm as physical as I can be on every single play. I don't think I'm dirty. I don't think I've ever been dirty. I just play hard. I think all of us do. If they don't want to play hard, I think they should play another sport."
Trueblood was asked if he thinks that he is getting a reputation as a dirty player.
"I don't think so," Trueblood said. "I'm not trying to be. I'm not trying to be dirty, I'm just trying to play hard."
At first, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden had no comment when asked about the offensive line being labeled as playing dirty. But later Gruden discussed his offensive line, and the accusations of dirty play.
"They are not dirty. I'll reiterate they are not dirty," said Gruden. "They are physical, and we want them to be physical. We don't want anybody to play dirty. We've already made a big issue here with the penalties, but this is a hard game. We are not playing chess. It is hard to block these guys when they are in the gaps every play blitzing. They won't just turn your back and let you block them, so you got to be a physical man to play here. If you talk to Trueblood and Faine and Joseph and tell them to cool it, they won't listen to you. They are just physical guys that like to play the game."
In Sunday's game against the Bears, Tampa Bay threw for 407 yards. In 67 pass attempts the Buccaneers did not allow a sack. On Monday, Gruden credited the offensive line of doing a superb job of pass protection. He also complimented the running backs and tight ends for their contributions in the protection of Bucs quarterback Brian Griese. Gruden was asked if it was a good thing that the offensive line may be getting a notorious reputation around the NFL.
"I don't know. Maybe it is," said Gruden. "We've had a few years here where we had a hard time protecting our quarterback, let's be honest, and to throw 70 passes and not allow a sack we are going to feel good about that for just one more second here. If people don't like the way that we play a little bit, I could show glimpses of tape on either side in every game where you could say that is borderline in their actions. I apologize if I offend anybody in the way I'm talking, but I have a lot of confidence and respect for the way these guys prepare themselves and the way they protect themselves. They work to win. That is something that we are going to build are franchise around, those five guys, and really six now with Davin [Joseph] coming back. We think [Sean] Mahan is a real addition to us. We got this [James] Lee guy who you are going to hear about. We like his talent and his upside he has a bright future here."
Faine also is happy with the way the line has gelled and the way they have performed as a unit.
"We are all, I believe, from the same mold," said Faine. "From the first game because before that you can't really tell. You don't have pads on and you're not in a game situation, and you're going up against your own guys so it is hard to really know that. Even in the preseason too, because you're not in there the entire time. In the regular season is when you show you're true colors. I'm just happy to be apart of this group. It is one of those things where you're not worried if you're going into a fight, or a battle, or you're going into a scrum. You're not worried about not having the support of your group.
"You know you're going to get their full effort 100 percent of the time. You know that you don't have to worry about a guy over here slacking, or half-stepping on a play, you know you are going to get the full effort to the whistle and through the whistle from each guy. It is very rare. I've never been on a line like that. It is something that I love. It is fun to be out there. The thing is we are out there in the middle of the game in the middle of a huddle, and we're laughing and having fun. It didn't matter at what point in the game. I remember distinctly in the last one, Trueblood and I cracked a joke and have a running joke about Notre Dame and Boston College. I'm up 3-1 right now. It is something that we have a lot of fun with, and across the board. It is fun to be apart of it."
One key member of the offensive line, guard Davin Joseph, has been out of the Bucs' first three games recuperating from a broken foot he suffered during the preseason. Joseph returned to practice on Wednesday, and was not limited at all in practice. His status for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers is undecided, but Gruden sounded optimistic about it. During his absence, Joseph has been watching his unit closely, and has liked what he has seen.
"(The offensive line play) has been great. I'm really proud of those guys," said Joseph. "They've had some tough opponents, well, throughout the season really we have to play some tough teams. Green Bay at home will be tough, too."
Thus far in the 2008 season, the Buccaneers offense is the seventh ranked unit in the league. The running offense is the 14th-rated unit, and the passing offense is rated sixth in the NFL. Gruden seemed exasperated at having to defend his offensive line for physical play.
"This is football, man," said Gruden. "This is the National Football League. This is tackle, full-speed tackling. Yeah, they try to knock your brains out whenever they can, and we are going to try and knock you off the ball with authority and make a first down, and keep drives alive. I'm not going to call any of my guys nasty or dirty. I'll just say I like what we have. We have work to do, and we have a great challenge this week."