Less than 24 hours after Tampa Bay suffered its first loss of the 2008 regular season, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden addressed the media in a press conference at One Buccaneer Place, which is a regular occurrence throughout the football season.
Gruden had a chance to review film of Tampa Bay's 24-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints, a game in which he saw his offense convert just 2-of-12 (17 percent) third downs and score one offensive touchdown while the defense surrendered 438 yards of offense, including touchdown strikes of 84, 42 and 39 yards.
"It was a dogfight. I think we picked it up a little bit from an offensive standpoint as the game unfolded. There were some opportunities I feel that we didn't cash in on, unfortunately," said Gruden. "We played very good defensively with the exception of four or five plays. In looking at one of the explosive plays I believe the officials missed a holding call on that play, but that's football. It went right down to the wire. We didn't call the right plays down there at the end."
Tampa Bay's defense allowed New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to complete 23-of-32 (71 percent) of his passes for 343 yards and toss three touchdowns and one interception on Sunday, which has defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's group ranked 25th overall in the NFL heading into Week 2.
While it was uncharacteristic of Tampa Bay's defense to allow the long touchdowns to wide receivers David Patten and Devery Henderson, and running back Reggie Bush, Gruden was quick to credit Brees for his impressive performance.
"He's a great quarterback," Gruden said of Brees. "A couple of plays that no one's talking about were the ones he made in the pocket where he has guys hanging on him and he's throwing the ball for first downs. He made two tremendous plays in the pocket. He's a great quarterback. He had a lot to do with their success yesterday. He's on the money. Down the field, he's on the money. We mistimed a jump one time. We had a chance to intercept the ball and we didn't make a play. But our guys played hard. We had six or seven series in a row where we were very impressive. We uncharacteristically gave up the big play yesterday, and hopefully it gets everybody's attention and we can do a lot better than that."
GRUDEN REMAINS COMMITTED TO GROUND GAME Despite the fact that Tampa Bay never trailed New Orleans by more than seven points on Sunday, Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia, who missed most of training camp and three preseason contests with a calf injury, was called on to throw the ball 41 times in the loss to the Saints.
Garcia completed 24-of-41 passes for 221 yards and tossed one touchdown and one interception. While the passing game was inconsistent, the Bucs found success on the ground, where Earnest Graham rushed for 94 yards on 10 carries (9.1 avg.), including a 46-yarder in the second half. Warrick Dunn rushed for 54 yards on nine carries (6.0 avg.).
Tampa Bay rushed for 146 yards on 20 carries (7.3 avg.) vs. New Orleans. Gruden suggested that Tampa Bay's seven penalties played a role in his playcalling vs. New Orleans on Sunday.
"Yeah, we would like to get him more involved," Gruden said of Graham, who rushed for 898 yards (4.0 avg.) and 10 touchdowns in 2007. "Warrick Dunn did some good things. When you start the game and you go three-and-out you aren't going to get a lot of guys involved. We had a good drive on our second possession. We got Joey Galloway a great look to keep the drive alive inside their red zone and we don't convert. We get two holding penalties and a personal foul and it's first-and-20 or first-and-25. It's hard to run. You've got to throw in the two-minute situations. Sometimes circumstances make it a little harder than others. I'll be the first to say that Earnest played well and we have to give it to him more – and Warrick Dunn included."
MORE PRESSURE NEEDED ON QUARTERBACKS One of the reasons why Brees was so successful passing the ball vs. Tampa Bay's defense, which ranked No. 1 vs. the pass in 2007, was because the Bucs defensive front four failed to generate a consistent pass rush.
Tampa Bay sacked Brees one time on Sunday. That quarterback takedown came courtesy of defensive end Greg White, who notched a team-high eight sacks last year.
"I actually think I went by the quarterback," White said of his sack. "I dipped and I haven't seen the film yet, so I don't know what happened, but I know I almost blew out [Brees'] knee. I didn't mean to, by the way, but it was a good pass rush."
Second-year defensive end Gaines Adams was held without a sack or tackle in Tampa Bay's loss to New Orleans. He recorded six sacks during the 2007 regular season and still is looking to build on his success as a rookie.
"He has to continue to get better," Gruden said of Adams. "He had two hits on the quarterback, which is pretty good. The Saints with
Jamaal Brown and their offensive line are pretty good. I'm not making any excuses. It was the first game, but we expect more because he's capable of giving us more. We have to lean on him and keep pushing."
The Bucs blitzed on several different plays vs. the Saints, and a few proved to be effective. Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud blitzed and drilled Brees in the first quarter, which caused his pass to float on him and allowed cornerback Phillip Buchanon to intercept it and return it 26 yards for a touchdown.
If Tampa Bay's front four can't produce a better pass rush, the Bucs will be forced to blitz Ruud and other players more often.
"Every linebacker wants to blitz. That's one of the fun parts of playing," said Ruud. "With Coach Kiffin it's about game-planning things. Sometimes he wants to blitz more than others, so I think it will be a week-to-week thing."
The New York Giants registered a league-high 53 sacks en route to winning the Super Bowl last season. Gruden knows the pass rush will need to improve in order for the Bucs defense to dominate games in 2008.
"I thought we had some good pressures," Gruden said. "We got to Drew a couple times – not so much on sacks, but we did hit him as he was delivering the ball. I think on the first interception for a touchdown was the result of pressure. You know we have to examine our four-man rush. I like to say when it's really good, it's not good enough. We need more rush. Playing the Saints on that surface and they are throwing the ball coming out of their own 2-yard line – we have to get more done. We have to get it more done with the pass rush. That's the key to winning in this league."
BUCS FOCUSED ON FALCONS The Atlanta Falcons are supposed to be in a rebuilding year under new head coach Mike Smith. That didn't appear to be the case on Sunday when the Falcons defended their home turf with an impressive 34-21 win over the visiting Detroit Lions, who went 4-0 in the preseason.
Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan completed 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) of his passes and tossed a 62-yard touchdown, which came on his first pass as a pro. Running back Michael Turner broke a single-game franchise record by posting 220 yards rushing on 22 carries (10.0 avg.) and scoring two touchdowns. Atlanta defensive end John Abraham also notched three sacks vs. Detroit.
Needless to say, Atlanta's convincing win over Detroit caught the eye of Tampa Bay.
"They've got a good quarterback," Gruden said of the Falcons. "This guy is arguably the number one pick in football. I think he was the number two or three overall selection. They had another back named [Jerious] Norwood that had close to 100 yards. We'll have to work hard on our run fits and we're going to have to tackles extremely well this week. No question about it. The Falcons are going to be a very good defensive football team. They have good personnel and they have a very good coach. They have a very disciplined team and they are playing really hard. I give them a lot of credit."
The Bucs are 0-1 on the season and have all three of their division rivals – the Falcons, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints – sitting in front of them with 1-0 records. It's only Week 2 of the 2008 regular season, but the Bucs know they cannot afford to fall to 0-2 on the season, especially with their first two games of the year being against division rivals.
"Your back is up against the wall every day in this league," Gruden said. "We've got to fight right now. We had a tough loss yesterday. We lost our opener on the road last year. We have the right stuff in our locker room. We're going to play well this week. I'm confident of that."
BUCS NEED MORE ACTION FROM JACKSON Tampa Bay invested a second-round draft pick in wide receiver Dexter Jackson in April. While he's a raw receiver, Jackson is expected to make an immediate impact as a return specialist for the Buccaneers.
But Jackson struggled in his debut, averaging just 5.8 yards per punt return on five attempts. After getting off to a rough start in the first half, Jackson seemed to settle down in the second half and even broke off a 14-yard punt return and 33-yard kickoff return. The Bucs hope that is a sign of things to come from Jackson.
"I thought he got better," Gruden Jackson. "Early catching the ball in the dome in your first NFL game in that atmosphere, I thought he was a little bit maybe tentative. It's quite an experience for a young guy in his first game. He and Jeremy Zuttah both – and Aqib Talib – got their eyes opened to the NFL yesterday. Hopefully they are better football players this week because of it.
"I think he does [have the right stuff for the return specialist job]. It's evident by the way he stuck it up in there the last three or four opportunities he had. Part of your decision-making is, ‘Do I get outside where the play is blocked and designed to go, or do I take it north and south decisively where it's supposed to go and get what I can get?' There's decision-making that goes on there. You have to have guts, and I think he has that. He's disciplined and he has to take care of the football. I think he'll get better and better."
GRUDEN EXPLAINS NON-CHALLENGE ON BUSH'S TOUCHDOWN New Orleans running back Reggie Bush hauled in a pass from quarterback Drew Brees and gained 42 yards en route to scoring the game-winning touchdown vs. Tampa Bay in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
But replays showed that Bush appeared to be pushed out of bounds by a Bucs defender at the 3-yard line. However, the Bucs, who had one timeout remaining in the game, opted not to challenge the call.
Gruden was asked about that decision on Monday and had the following explanation.
"As far as being out at the 3-yard line? Yeah, we probably could have [challenged that]," Gruden said. "We didn't get the feed up in the press box. We were limited in timeouts as it was. I felt that without getting the feed where our coaches could look at it, I didn't want to risk it. I wanted to challenge the holding call on [Bush's 26-yard run earlier in the game] more than anything."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud on the team's confidence level after its 24-20 loss to the Saints.
"It's not like we got manhandled or anything like that in this game. It's a game we feel like we gave away. We feel like we just somewhat handed them a victory. The confidence level isn't shaken by any means. We've definitely got a sense of urgency. We've got to get things going again. We'll take [Monday] off and come back Wednesday ready to go."