The 3-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are banged up headed into their Week 11 contast against the 1-8 San Francisco 49ers.

Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips, who recently signed a four-year contract extension, suffered the most significant injury during Sunday’s 24-14 loss to the Falcons when he re-injured the right forearm fracture he sustained the week before against the Chiefs. Not only will Phillips miss Sunday’s game against the 49ers, there’s also a chance he could miss the rest of the 2004 season.

“It has worsened,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said of Phillips forearm fracture. “He’ll be out of this game and as we get further tests we will update you as to his status for the remainder of the season. But he will for sure miss this game.”

With Phillips out and starting strong safety Dwight Smith listed as questionable with a knee sprain, the Bucs will have to turn to rookie Will Allen and/or John Howell for help in the secondary.

“That will be an area that we look into here, not only today but in the next few days,” said Gruden. “Obviously, with Dwight Smith’s situation, we’ll consider both aspects of the safeties’ injury situations. But Howell and Will Allen are two guys who can play and will play if needed. We’ll see what happens.”

Losing both Phillips and Smith could be a tremendous blow to the Bucs, who have struggled against opposing team’s tight ends over the past two weeks. Against Kansas City, Tampa Bay allowed Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez to haul in nine passes for 123 yards and one touchdown. On Sunday, Atlanta TE Alge Crumpler hauled in four passes for 118 yards and scored one touchdown.

Gonzalez and Crumpler are arguably two of the best tight ends in the National Football League, but things certainly won’t get any easier for Tampa Bay’s defense on Sunday when San Francisco TE Eric Johnson, who has hauled in a NFC-leading 57 passes for 618 yards and two touchdowns this season, invades Raymond James Stadium with the 49ers’ 11th ranked passing offense.

“Don’t tell Eric Johnson that and don’t tell the guy in San Diego,” Gruden said. “We got hurt by the tight end yesterday. We have been hurt by the tight end the last couple of weeks. Crumpler is a prime player, a pro bowl player. He hurt us down the middle, two, three times. Gonzalez, same thing. We’ve got to resolve the difficulties we’ve had with the tight end because it’s just hurt us bad the last two weeks.”

Gruden said some blown coverages have contributed to the tight ends’ success in recent weeks.

“We do have a couple of missed assignments,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to tighten the details up because Eric Johnson, I do believe, leads the NFC in receiving, period. He’s not going to let up this week. Given that fact that we do have another safety man out, I am sure that is an area they will try to exploit.”

Although they’ve both seen a limited amount of playing time on defense, Allen has seen the field more than Howell this season. Either player could help fill the void left by Phillips since Tampa Bay cross-trains its safeties, but if Phillips and Smith are unable to go, Allen and Howell could find themselves in the starting lineup against the 49ers Sunday.

“We think he has gotten better,” Gruden said of Allen, who was the team’s 2004 fourth-round pick out of Ohio State. “He’s showing strides. Obviously, he needs an opportunity to show where he is. But he’s a rangy young guy who has sideline-to-sideline speed and good instinctiveness. We believe he is a contact player. If opportunity knocks for him this week it will be a good test for him.”

The Bucs could possibly use free agency to help fill the void left by Phillips and/or Smith. Two former Bucs — Dexter Jackson and Scott Frost — are safeties the team could have an interest in signing. Jackson, who was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVII, was released off injured reserve by the Arizona Cardinals earlier this season, and Frost spent a portion of last season on Tampa Bay’s active roster and went to training camp and preseason with the Bucs before being released in August.

In addition to the injuries suffered by safeties Jermaine Phillips and Dwight Smith, Bucs quarterback Brian Griese, who suffered a right shoulder sprain Sunday, is probable. Wide receiver Joey Galloway (groin), defensive end Simeon Rice (knee) and two players who missed Sunday’s game in Atlanta — defensive tackle Anthony McFarland (tricep) and fullback Mike Alstott (knee) — are also probable for the game against San Francisco.

The “A-Train” has been sidelined for two games with a MCL tear he suffered in the game against the Chicago Bears. Alstott was scheduled to miss a minimum of four weeks and appears to be right on schedule.

“Mike Alstott appears to be probable for this game,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “We’ll let him run around on the practice field on Wednesday, but we are optimistic that he will play in this game.”

According to Gruden, kicker Martin Gramatica, who was questionable in the days leading up to the Atlanta game, “feels better.”

Left tackle Derrick Deese (left foot) and fullback Greg Comella (lower back) are both listed as questionable.

The talk of the town in Tampa Bay on Monday was Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s decision in the fourth quarter to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons’ 28-yard line instead of attempting what would have been a 45-yard field goal, which would have tied the game at 17 had Martin Gramatica’s kick been successful. As everyone knows, Bucs running back Michael Pittman’s weak side sweep was stuffed on the fourth-down play, which resulted in a turnover on downs and a total shift in momentum.

But even after not converting the fourth down play and passing up an opportunity to tie the game up at 17 after trailing the Falcons by as many points early in the second quarter, Gruden stands by his decision to go for it early in the fourth quarter.

“No,” Gruden said when asked if he regretted his decision to go for it. “I regret losing a game. I regret not making it. No, 10 times out of 10, I will go for it in that situation. Just kicking a field goal does not guarantee that you will make it. Tying the game does not guarantee that you win. I felt that the play was to go for it and I think we had the right play called, I just do not think we got it done.”

Of course, had Gramatica not missed some practice time due to a hip injury and not struggled from 40-49 yard range this season (just 1-of-5 on those attempts), Gruden might have elected to attempt the field goal. However, Gruden said Monday that he does not lack confidence in Gramatica, who has made 11-of-16 (68 percent) field goal tries this season.

“I didn’t not kick the field goal because I lacked confidence,” said Gruden. “You try to show confidence in offensive football team and try to win the game. It was a heck of an effort coming from behind 17-0. Defense is playing excellent. They had the ball on the 25 or 26 yard line and they were able to make a decisive score in the game. I’m not going to look back and regret history. You have to do the best you can to win a football game. I thought that play was the right play. I thought it gave our team a chance to win it. Ultimately, it had a lot to do with us losing.”

Just when you thought Tampa Bay’s offensive line was making some real progress, it took a major step backward Sunday when it allowed quarterback Brian Griese to get sacked seven times. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden credited Atlanta’s front four for its potent pass rush and criticized his O-line for some critical mistakes.

“Atlanta caused us some problems,” said Gruden. “They had a real high pass rush yesterday; some fresh legs of talented rushers. (Patrick) Kerney is a guy that has given us some problems in the past and a very good football player; high draft pick. (Defensive tackle) Rod Coleman we knew from the Super Bowl and some of us from Raider days. He is a very disruptive inside player. He has double digits sack seasons as a under tackle. He played very well to start the second half, got two of them right out of the chute in the third quarter. We had a couple communication breakdowns. We used maximum protection at that time. The four man rush was able to get home. It was a combination of a lot of things. I credited Atlanta for coming off the football and really doing a great job with their rush.”

One of the challenges Tampa Bay had entering the game in Atlanta was having second-year center Sean Mahan make his first pro start in place of John Wade, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against Kansas City.

“Sluggish a bit early with the penalty and a miscommunication here and there but I thought he settled down later,” Gruden said of Mahan. “He played fairly well. It is a hard position to play, no matter what offense you have; it is a difficult position to play when you are the pilot of the airplane and you have to make all the calls and spilt second decisions right before the ball is snapped. A call you make determines the set the guy next to you makes. It might determine the assignment the left or right tackle might have. It is an area that hopefully we’ll graduate, get better, improve on. He made some good plays in the game and hopefully there are some instances on the tape that he can improve on.”

Although he’s a veteran, left tackle Derrick Deese also had a difficult challenge — overcoming a foot injury he suffered during the game.

“Yeah, I think it was a little bit,” Gruden said of Deese’s injury bothering him. “He gritted it out. He pass protected really well for us. The noise getting off the ball on time is a little harder to start with in the dome. I do believe that he was inhibited yes somewhat with the foot injury.”

Tampa Bay was flagged 13 times for 86 yards against Atlanta Sunday. Of those infractions, six of them were committed by Bucs offensive linemen. Those mistakes proved to be too many to overcome in a road game against a first-place team.

“I’m disappointed,” Gruden said. “It’s not a signature of our play here. We have two or three fouls that basically sustained drives for Atlanta and those were hard to overcome and certainly Atlanta did a great job making them pay for those penalties. They were able to convert on them with a first down, with a touchdown in the process. We had some penalties on offense that really threw us behind the eight ball in a down and distance standpoint. It puts you in some real predictable passing situations and it’s no way to go. It’s not a way to win.”

Tampa Bay has allowed 27 sacks through nine games this season, which is four more than the Bucs allowed all of last season. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Gruden wouldn’t rule out the possibility of making some changes on the offensive line.

If Deese can’t play against San Francisco, second-year T Anthony Davis, who started three games at left tackle in preseason while Deese recovered from foot surgery, will likely get the nod. There’s also a chance that rookie G Jeb Terry and veteran G Matt O’Dwyer could work their way into the rotation or possibly even the starting lineup against the 49ers.

“Well, the hardest part, right now, is after a loss you tend to over analyze things,” Gruden said. “We are working as hard as we can with Jeb Terry and Anthony Davis, our young football players. Other guys have impressed me in their action. Mike Clayton started from day one, basically. We’re seeing (cornerback) Torrie Cox, we’re seeing Mahan, we’re seeing a lot of the young people play. (Quarterback) Chris Simms was on his way, (defensive end) Dewayne White is playing. It is just a matter of time until a guy gets a chance. If he keeps working and earns that right. We’re going to keep working with Jeb Terry who was active yesterday for the first time and when the time is right these guys will get their chance.”

While most of the things talked about during Monday morning’s press conference were negative in nature, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden also mentioned a few positives, one of which included the play of tight end Ken Dilger, who caught five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons.

Dilger, who is in his 10th season, was released by the Bucs during the offseason in a salary cap maneuver. He’s shown that he was worthy of being re-signed, though, evidenced by his 24 receptions for 233 yards and three touchdowns. To put those numbers in perspective, Dilger caught a career-low 22 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown in 15 games during the 2003 season.

“He’s a good player,” Gruden said of Dilger. “He’s played so well for so long. We would like to utilize him more and more. As a pass receiver, he’s really pretty good at it. He’s a guy that does a lot of things that go unnoticed. He’s a guy that can lay on the nose. He’s a guy that can block the point of attack; come out in motion; handle defensive ends; do a good job as a football player. He’s obviously one of our deep threats right now. He’s making a lot of plays down the field, which is good for Ken Dilger. He’s a good man. He’s a good football player.”

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on the amount of NFL teams hovering around .500:

“There is a lot of hovering going on out there, you know. You see all of the scores and it obviously deepens the pain, for not being able to win this and gain more ground and certainly more momentum. Starting 17-0 on the road, in a sooped-up dome, like they play in there, where that crowd is in it. There’s no way of winning on the road. It could have been a miraculous comeback; one of the best comebacks in Buc history, at the time, could we have converted a play here or there and maybe run that football again. But sometimes, the closer you get, the further away you are. We got what we deserved yesterday; double-digit penalties, inability to convert on third-and-one and fourth-and-one. We got behind early and let Michael Vick get out of trouble and those are not good recipes for success.”

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