Head Coach Jon Gruden sees no point in dwelling on the negative with so much of the season left to be played
At 0-3, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of just five teams in the NFL still looking for its first win. It is certainly not where the Bucs wanted to be three weeks into the season, but with 13 games to play there is plenty of time to rebound.
But forget about .500 for right now. Forget about consecutive wins and an entry into the playoff hunt. Forget about next week.
Even on this very day, with the loss at Oakland still fresh and a winning streak still just conjecture, there is something here to build on.
"Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom just to find out who you are, how mentally tough you are, and in some ways character can be built from that," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "I don't like that, but right now that's the facts."
An 0-3 record may not actually be 'rock bottom' in the NFL, but the comment is understandable given the seemingly endless string of key injuries and the very public offensive struggles. The team is struggling to find its identity; maybe, thinks Gruden, one can be forged through adversity. And that's not just spin. The Bucs' coach has to acknowledge the tough spot his team is in, but he doesn't have to give up because of it. He said words to that effect to the team in the locker room after the game on Sunday night.
The Bucs have not been broken by their 0-3 start; perhaps the willpower needed to keep fighting in this situation will uncover the spark the team needs.
"I am not feeling great, but I am a very optimistic person," said Gruden. "I know the firepower that this organization has and I understand the situation that we are in right now. I am proud of our team for their effort. I am proud of our guys for busting their butts. I am proud of our team for competing. More than anything, I am proud of that fact."
Early-game offensive struggles, a few ill-timed big plays allowed by the defense and, on Sunday night, a clicking attack on the other sideline have put the Bucs in a hole of 10 points or more for three consecutive weeks. Each game, Tampa Bay has rallied and its offense has grown steadily more productive, even with mounting injuries. Unfortunately, each rally has come up short and the Bucs are winless after Week Three for the first time in eight years.
That puts the expected emotional strain on Gruden and his players. This is the roughest start in Gruden's seven seasons as an NFL head coach.
"I am going to be resilient," he said. "This is as low as I have been personally. The two or three friends that I have left in Tampa, I am sure will call me sometime today and pump me up. We are going to rebuild this thing. We are going to reenergize this thing and we are going to once again be great. That's the only way we are going to do things here."
It as at times like this that a coach will make this common but not inaccurate statement: "We need somebody to step up and make plays for us." Gruden, in fact, has said such a thing, as have several of his players. The problem for the Buccaneers is that injuries keep erasing the players who are most likely to fulfill that request. The latest losses are running back Charlie Garner and tight end Rickey Dudley, two players who have proven capable of the explosive play on offense. is getting better. It's just hard. You don't know who's coming or who's going at certain times during the game. It's very difficult to have everybody on the same page. You are not used to practicing with this guy or that guy. Everything is happening for the first time, it appears.
"It is a challenge we have to overcome. That's the state of the Buccaneers' offense right now. It's one that has to be overcome."
On Monday, after delivering the latest bit of sobering news from the training camp, Gruden admitted that he sometimes feels stunned by the run of injuries.
"'Anything else, Todd?'" asks Gruden, imagining yet another conversation with Head Trainer Todd Toriscelli. "'What else do you have for me?' You have to step back sometimes and ask how can this happen?
"But you can't dwell on the negative. There are plenty of people who want to do that and rightfully so. People are paid to do it. I am going to get back to work and do everything I can to help this team win a football game and then win another one. If we can creep back into the .500 range and hit our stride at the right time, you never know what can happen. That's what we have to do."