Monday, November 29, 2004

Team Report

from the official site of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Head Coach Jon Gruden struggled to think of the right word to describe his Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ loss in Carolina on Sunday, but only briefly. He soon hit on the exact description.

“I guess ‘maddening’ is the word I’m looking for,” said Gruden. “Maddening. Not only to the players, not only to the coaches, but to our fans. You’re counting on certain aspects of your football team to come through for you, and clearly it’s been a problem.”

The Buccaneers have several ongoing issues that have plagued them in the two seasons since their Super Bowl XXXVII victory, including injuries, penalties, ill-timed turnovers and late-game big plays. Perhaps the team’s most damaging shortcoming, however, has been an inconsistent placekicking game; that was certainly a deciding factor in the 21-14 loss at Carolina, in which Martin Gramatica missed or was blocked on three field tries of less than 40 yards.

On the season, Gramatica has missed eight of 19 field goal tries, including seven of his last nine.

The time has come to address that problem, says Gruden. The Buccaneers will try out several kickers on Tuesday and could sign a new player at that position this week.

Gruden did not say for certain that the Bucs would sign another kicker, or whether or not Gramatica would retain his spot on the 53-man roster in the event of a signing.

“I don’t know what I’m considering right now,” said Gruden. “All I know is, I’m considering doing everything we’ve got to do to improve that aspect of our football team. Clearly, it’s been a sore thumb for us this season.

“We’re going to bring another kicker in and evaluate who’s available. If we can improve our football team, we’ll do everything we can to do that. I think the number one thing is, let’s address that area of our football team, to see if there is any way possible we can improve there.”

The Bucs have been scanning the list of available players for several weeks, ever since Gramatica appeared on the injury report with a hip strain following the November 7 win over Kansas City. The team actually signed another kicker, the Orlando Predators’ Jay Taylor, to the practice squad that week but released him the following week when Gramatica proved healthy enough to kick. Gruden says the team’s personnel department has ‘zoomed in’ on a few guys. The Bucs, however, rarely announce players they’ve brought in for tryouts unless they choose to sign them.

The Bucs would not necessarily have to release Gramatica to sign another kicker, but they would have to release somebody from the 53-man roster. If Gramatica has to cede either his roster spot or his placekicking job at any point, it will be a difficult decision for an organization that has enjoyed so much success as the result of his past kicking heroics.

In fact, the site of Sunday’s struggles was also the venue for perhaps Gramatica’s finest day as a pro, just two years ago. In a game that would eventually prove to be the turning point in the Bucs’ greatest season ever, Gramatica made three long fourth-quarter field goals to kick Tampa Bay to a 12-9 win over Carolina. Memories such as those are still fresh in Gruden’s mind, and Gramatica’s name appears over and over again in the Bucs’ record book.

“You pick up the media guide and you realize what this guy has done as a kicker in this league,” said Gruden. “At the same time, in the last year-plus, we have struggled there. He’s had injuries. Certainly, it’s easy to point fingers when you lose. The kicker is playing an individual game and it’s easy to sometimes point fingers when things don’t go well. A lot of things have to be considered, and [Gramatica’s history] is certainly one of them.”

Monday, November 08, 2004

Bucs Baffle Chiefs

By Ira Kaufman, from NFL.com

TAMPA - Each time Vonnie Holliday thought about the final score, it hurt a little more.

An hour after the game, the veteran defensive end was still distraught the Chiefs came up on the short end of a 34-31 shootout at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, dropping Kansas City to 3-5 and undermining any momentum from two impressive home victories.

``Just when you feel like you've got this thing going, the Bucs come out with a good attack plan and give us all sorts of problems with misdirection,'' Holliday said after Tampa Bay rolled up 23 first downs and 418 yards. ``We thought they'd come out running, but [quarterback Brian] Griese picked his spots and played great. If you would have told me we'd get 31 points today, I would have said we'd win in a blowout.''

With an extra week to prepare, Bucs coach Jon Gruden submerged himself in game film and ripped a page out of the Denver playbook.

The Broncos confused the Chiefs in winning the season opener 34-24 as Jake Plummer rolled left and right off play action and kept finding targets open downfield.

On Sunday, it was Griese's turn to befuddle a defense that thought it had made some strides under new coordinator Gunther Cunningham.

``When you give up 34 points, you are not going forward,'' Coach Dick Vermeil said of a unit that yielded five touchdown drives of at least 67 yards and failed to force a turnover.

The Bucs threw on eight of their first 10 snaps and Kansas City defenders were repeatedly caught out of position.

Linebackers bit at run fakes, opening up the middle for crossing routes as Griese posted a quarterback rating of 111.9.

``Tampa Bay played extremely well, especially on offense,'' Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. ``When your offense scores 31 points on the road, you should win that game. I think the week off gave the Bucs more of a opportunity to look at plays that have hurt us in the past.''

Griese threw with poise and precision and Michael Pittman opened the second half with a 78-yard burst, scoring untouched on a simple run off right tackle.

``We didn't fit right on the play,'' Holliday said. ``He came though with a lead blocker and once Pittman gets going, you're not going to catch him.''

Despite yielding 9.0 yards a snap against the Colts last week, the Chiefs came away encouraged about their defensive effort.

Tampa Bay averaged 7.6 yards and the Bucs defense made enough second-half plays to provide confidence heading into Sunday's game against NFC South leader Atlanta.

``Unfortunately, they matched us for every score,'' said Chiefs running back Priest Holmes. ``The Bucs seemed like they were definitely ready for us.''

Holmes entered the game as the NFL's No. 1 rusher, but he was limited to 59 yards in 16 carries and suffered a bruise to his right knee late in the third quarter.

``Any time you lose someone of Priest's caliber, it's a huge loss,'' quarterback Trent Green said.

Holmes indicated he wanted to go back in, but Vermeil's postgame remarks suggested the Pro Bowl back said he was too hurt to return in crunch time.

Once again, the Chiefs will find themselves trying to defend a suspect defense that appears to lack play-makers.

``We just couldn't stop their bootleg pass ... couldn't stop it all day,'' defensive tackle John Browning said. ``We should be able to win with 31 points. That's just pitiful.''