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Does Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman have a fumbling problem? His stats certainly suggest so.

Pittman has turned in a banner season, rushing for 594 yards (4.2 avg.) and six touchdowns and catching 25 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, but he’s also fumbled the ball four times in just eight games.

All four of those loose balls were recovered by the opposing team, and three of the four have been extremely costly.

In the third quarter of the Tampa Bay-St. Louis game, the Bucs had the ball at the Rams’ 15-yard line and were moving in for a score. However, that drive ended when Rams safety Adam Archuleta stripped the ball from Pittman and returned it 93 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. That costly turnover proved to be the difference in the 28-21 game that St. Louis won.

Last Sunday, Pittman had two fumbles, which proved to be huge in another game that was decided by one touchdown. As everyone knows, the Bucs came up short of a win in that contest, too.

Pittman had a fumble in the game against Chicago, but Tampa Bay won that contest. He also appeared to fumble in New Orleans and Atlanta, but luckily for the Bucs, Pittman was ruled down in the Saints game and his forward progress had stopped in the play in Atlanta, which prompted an official to call the play dead before Pittman actually was stripped of the ball, which was returned for a touchdown.

Pittman’s inability to hold onto the football has caught the attention of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who has had to turn to Pittman to carry the load with Charlie Garner sidelined for the season since Week 3.

“It is alarming because he has historically not been a fumbler,” said Gruden. “A couple of the fumbles have been from the blind pursuit where he’s broken contain and he chooses to cut it back into the pursuit, and out of his vision the ball is dislodged. It’s an area that he obviously has to improve on. I’m also aware that he’s carrying the load every down, as a runner, as a receiver. Fatigue might be setting in. But it’s an area that we have to eliminate from his play because he is playing extremely well for us.”

Have Pittman’s fumbling problems just started this season as Gruden suggested? Pewter Report decided to find out, and what we uncovered was quite disturbing and somewhat contradicted what the Bucs’ head coach said Monday.

In 96 career games, Pittman has fumbled a total of 25 times. That’s an average of one fumble every four games.

As a Arizona Cardinal in 2000 and 2001, Pittman had five fumbles in each of those seasons, and he has four through eight games this season.

Although he’s averaging about 3.5 fumbles per season, one might want to consider the amount of times Pittman touches the ball before they call for his head.

Pittman has fumbled 25 of the 1,339 times he’s touched the ball via the ground and passing game, which comes out to an average of one fumble every 53.5 touches. Of the 25 fumbles he’s had, Pittman’s team has failed to recover just 10 of them. However, all four of his fumbles have been lost this season.

One has to wonder why Gruden, who played a big part in recruiting Pittman in free agency during the 2002 offseason, wasn’t aware of his previous mishaps with the football. Or perhaps he is well aware of it and was simply protecting his player while trying to remedy the problem behind closed doors.

Whatever the case may be, Pittman will continue to touch the ball because the Bucs simply have no other viable options in terms of full-time running backs. At this point, all the Bucs can do is hope Pittman’s production continues to outweigh his fumbles.

This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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