Panic not part of Bucs' game plan

Despite falling to Saints in overtime, Tampa Bay comes to town confident

September 14, 2002|By Chris Harry | Chris Harry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TAMPA, Fla. - A lot of rain has fallen on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week, but the sky hasn't come down with it.

Despite looking nothing like a Super bowl contender in Sunday's season-opening, 26-20 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Bucs aren't caught up in any what's-the-matter mentality.

"We didn't play well, and we know why we didn't play, and we know how to fix it," defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said. "Let's face it, we're not 0-12. We're 0-1. We still have 15 more to go."

The Bucs face the Ravens (0-1) tomorrow in a game in which Tampa Bay looms as clearly the better team. Some, however, might have made the same statement a week ago.

"[The Saints] were better than I thought they'd be," Bucs tailback Michael Pittman said. "I still think we were prepared for them. We just didn't come out and execute."

For coach Jon Gruden, execution will be the theme at Ravens Stadium. Both sides of the ball absorbed their share of blame against New Orleans.

On offense, the Bucs couldn't keep the Saints' rush off Brad Johnson. Defensively, they missed tackles, and an inability to get off on third down helped the Saints bolt to a 20-10 third-quarter lead before Tampa Bay staged a rally to force the extra period.

Then, in overtime, Tampa Bay's special teams melted down, allowing the decisive touchdown.

"That was our first game," Gruden said. "It was the first time these guys have gone wire to wire together."

The best thing that could happen for the Bucs this week is to get off to a quick start, like the Saints did. Last week, the Bucs had the ball just 3:28 of the first quarter, and only 9:01 for the first half, in falling behind 13-3 at the break. The only players in rhythm were on New Orleans' defense, which came hard and often at Johnson all day.

With no running game, Johnson had to throw 52 times. He paid for it along the way, too. According to statistics kept by Saints coaches, Johnson took 21 hits - 18 knockdowns and three sacks - in the game and added eight more pressures. Johnson, by his count, had a career-high 13 throwaways due to pressure.

"We have to jump-start our offense in the first quarter," wide-out Keenan McCardell said. "Don't wait until we're behind. Don't wait until we're up against the wall. Let's get it going from the beginning."

Ravens coach Brian Billick reviewed the Tampa Bay defeat and understands what Gruden's going through, especially on offense.

"It's evolving," he said. "No way he just comes in and picks up where he left off in Oakland. It's a process. Where they'll be at the end of the season - as opposed to where they are now and how they'll use formations and play-calling - is totally different. Now, having said that, I'm looking at a tape right now where I see a Pro Bowler at every skill position."

No one has to tell the Bucs' defense that they have Pro Bowlers at every position, too. If they'd forgotten, the Saints reminded them in a heavy-handed way.

"The smelling salts are under our noses," defensive end Simeon Rice said. "We got our wake-up call. And that's all good."

Chris Harry is a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Site:Ravens Stadium

When:Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line:Bucs by 3 1/2

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