FB Mike Alstott says the Bucs need to 'downsize' their recovery time from the current losing streak
The Bucs are in the midst, and hopefully at the end, of a four-game losing streak. All four games have been within the team's grasp in the final quarter but have slipped away. Two were at home, two on the road. Two were within the NFC Central, two without.
So which one hurts the most.
The most recent one, always.
It's early Friday morning and the Bucs are feeling the sting of their Thursday night loss to the Detroit Lions by a 28-14 score. The final scoring gap doesn't accurately reflect how close the game was, but it is wide enough to represent the Bucs' growing concern.
"This is one of the tougher losses we have had since I have been here," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "We had a lot of things going for us, but didn't take advantage of it. I take my hat off to Detroit, they played a good game. We are playing hard, but not playing particularly well or smart."
In the coming days, Dungy will likely find reasons for optimism. As the Buccaneers were frequently reminded in locker room interviews, the 1999 NFC Central Championship team started out the season 3-4 as well. Still, by the end of Sunday's NFL action, the Bucs could be as many as four games behind the division-leading Minnesota Vikings.
"We have dug ourselves a big, big hole," acknowledged Dungy. "Now we have to pull ourselves out. Losing two home games is tough. It is hard to battle that, but we have to come out of it."
Buccaneer players were not particularly consoled by the similarities to the 1999 scenario, but they do believe this team is capable of a similar turnaround. "What happened last year was the past," said K Martin Gramatica. "We have the coaches and the talent to stick together and do it again."
Other Buccaneers had similar takes. Here's what a few of them had to say:
FB Mike Alstott: "We have been in this situation before obviously, but we will be back. It is a new system. Everyone is learning each and every week. We all have to learn about each other. It takes time, but we have to downsize that time."
QB Shaun King: "I am almost lost for words and I will just have to come in and look at the tape and see what we have to improve on. We've just got to get better.
"I need to improve but I am confident I will be able to get better offensively. We are just a little bit off and we just have to execute better. We are not as sharp as we should be. It is very frustrating because we are a lot better team than (one that) has lost four in a row. We have to stop putting ourselves in difficult situations where we don't have to drive on the final play of the fourth quarter to score and win. We are not where we should be and we are beating ourselves."
SS John Lynch: "This is a hard one to take. We felt like we gave everything we had and not to come out ahead is real disappointing. We have to give Detroit credit. I think this is when our character is going to show and we'll see who shows."
WR Keyshawn Johnson: "This is not frustrating - that's the wrong word to use. We are just not doing a good job, plain and simple. There is no blame here, we just need to get this going. We need to start doing the things we did that got us to 3-0. We're going to take a couple days off and try to get this thing going again. I've been through this before and this team has been through this before. We'll get it right."
OG Frank Middleton: "We just have to get back to what we do best and that is run the ball. We did not run the ball and we didn't control the clock. We have to go back and look at film and hopefully get better. This is a crucial time."
Overall, it was an irritated but determined group in the Buccaneers' postgame locker room. The issues that were nagging after one or two games seem crucial now, and the Bucs are determined to right their ship before it sinks.
"The second half of the season we need to get back to how we know we can play," Dungy summarized. "We had plenty of chances to make plays, but you are not always going to make them physically. Mentally we need to get cleaned up before it's too late."