Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Overcoming the Elements

Heavy winds probably contributed to a damaging string of dropped passes Sunday, but Jon Gruden knows that can’t remain an excuse for the Bucs, who face several more cold-weather games

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This outstanding catch by WR Joey Galloway in the second quarter was erased by a penalty

The winds swirling inside Giants Stadium on Sunday were bad enough to send passes veering away from their targets on out patterns, essentially shut down any offense heading east and even make a simple toss to a running back adventurous.

And yes, the winds even contributed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' game-altering rash of dropped passes.

Obviously reluctant to be offering any sort of excuse for the Bucs' troubles in a 17-3 loss to the Giants on Sunday, Head Coach Jon Gruden conceded that the Meadowlands bluster – as bad as some players familiar with the place had ever seen – was likely a factor in several surprising drops.

At the same time, Gruden also pointed out that the conditions were the same for both teams, and they didn't stop Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress from making a circus touchdown catch for the game's first score.

"If I say the weather wasn't a factor, I'd be lying," said Gruden. "[But] Burress catches a one-handed pass for a touchdown with the wind. We've got to catch the ball better, but I'm sure it was a factor to some degree."

Please note: "Factor" does not equal "excuse." Gruden's primary point to his players on Monday was that this is not the last time the Bucs will be faced with difficult conditions that must be overcome. In fact, it's not even close to the last time they will be expecting foul weather this season. Still remaining on the team's schedule are December trips to Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cleveland, and even November visits to Carolina and Dallas have the potential for tough weather.

"The weather certainly was tough on the Giants receivers, it was tough on our receivers, but we're going to play in a lot worse weather conditions than that – in Pittsburgh, in Chicago, in Cleveland later this year," said Gruden. "We've got to play in the elements better. [These] games have been scheduled for over a year. We know who we're playing and when we're playing them. We've got to respond better wherever the games are played."

The Bucs' biggest drops came when the wind was at their backs and the team was taking some more ambitious shots downfield. Each team had to alter its approach depending on the direction it was headed, and the Bucs had the wind advantage in the second and third quarters. They squandered those opportunities, something they won't be able to repeat in Pittsburgh, Chicago or Cleveland if they want to leave those frigid cities with victories.

"These elements were rough, half of the football game, very rough with a stiff breeze in your face," said Gruden. "But, when you have the wind at your back, obviously you have to make good with those possessions. We're going to see a heck of a lot worse situations weather wise than what we saw yesterday, I can promise you that."

The drops certainly played a part in what turned into an unfavorable balance between the run and the pass for the Bucs' offense.

Over their first six possessions, the Bucs called seven running plays and nine passing plays, and would likely have run more had they had more success. Those seven runs produced five yards and one turnover, meaning each drive ended with a long third-down or a giveaway. The Bucs ran on six of their 11 first or second-down snaps during those six possessions.

The sixth possession ended in the fumbled toss between Bruce Gradkowski and Cadillac Williams, which led to a quick touchdown against the wind for the Giants. The Bucs were suddenly down 14-0 and feeling more pressure to make the most of the remaining eight minutes of the half with the wind at their backs.

And they might have done so had they not been plagued by the drops.

"There were some game-changing plays in the second period that would have allowed us to get back into a sense of normalcy in terms of running the football," said Gruden. "But when you're behind like we are and the wind is such a factor, it's a crisis to get something done when you're with the wind. I've got Paul Hackett and Bill Muir on my staff who coached numerous years and games in that stadium, and if we don't get something done with the wind it's going to be hard to score against it."

The Giants' defense, up by two scores, was committed to stopping the run, which gave the Bucs several chances for big plays in the passing game.

"If we can make a play there, or two, we change the game," said Gruden. "But unfortunately we weren't able to get that done. We took the wind in the third quarter to try to use the same philosophy, basically, and we had some great looks again. We missed a couple opportunities in the passing game once again. I don't believe there was going to be a lot of offense going the other way, and clearly that was the indication for both teams."

Gruden doesn't fear the coming cold-weather games on the schedule. In fact, he professed a fondness for the cold and pointed out that the 2002 Bucs were notorious for having trouble in such weather before ending that notion with a big win in Champaign, Illinois. That team didn't use its cold-weather past as an excuse, and Gruden won't let this one do so either.

"We've got to play better in the elements when they're not in our favor," he said.

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