Buccaneers: Playoff Hopes Still Alive

Tampa defense solid, offense had trouble

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers still have a good chance to make the playoffs even after a 28-0 beating put on them by the New England Patriots in Foxboro. Playing in the cold and on the road were two big disadvantages for the young team to overcome. Playing against an experienced Super Bowl team getting healthy again, proved to be too much. Ryan Nece, who ran into P Josh Miller extending a Patriots scoring drive, said, "You can't dwell on it [the loss]." He and the team have two games left to move on.

What was it Dorothy said? There's no place like home?

The Buccaneers will be glad to find out after completing a brutal stretch of three straight road games.

Tampa Bay finished 2-1 on the swing, not a bad performance despite Saturday's 28-0 loss to the two-time defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

"It's tough, I'll be honest with you," coach Jon Gruden said. "I've done this a long enough time to tell you that three game road stands late in the season don't happen often. We were able to win two out of three. I told our team after the game, we're not just going to brush this under the rug and say it's a mulligan or whatever.

"We didn't play well enough (Saturday). I take credit for that. But we do have a good football team, a young team in some ways. Hopefully, they learn from this. But we lost to a damn good football team for good reason."

Tampa Bay is 9-5, still in good position to make a run at the NFC South title. The Bucs play host to Atlanta on Christmas Eve and finish the regular season at Raymond James Stadium against the Saints. Meanwhile, the Falcons and Panthers play on the final day of the regular season.

The task for the Bucs is to forget about their first shutout loss since 1999.

"You try to do it immediately," receiver Joey Galloway said. "That's the name of the game. How quickly can you do it? It's tough, though. Everybody's down right now, everybody feels bad. I think all of us will have plays and situations in our mind we wish we could do over. So, that's tough. Hopefully, by tomorrow, the focus shifts to getting the next one."

Bucs linebacker Ryan Nece said the importance of the final two games should help the team rebound.

"You can't dwell on it. How you put it behind you is to realize you've got division opponents coming in that are fighting to get in the playoffs. We're fighting to continue to set our mark and win a division, so that's how you forget about it. You realize the importance and the magnitude of the games.

"This is our last road game until we go to the playoffs. But when you play in front of your fans and sleep in your own beds, it's a lot better. It feels good.

Said Gruden, "We really are enthused, obviously, about playing a home game. We've been on the road for a long time. It's been a fun, exciting experience. But we need our fans. Obviously, they're looking forward to going home and licking their wounds and finishing this season as strong as we can. We've got no mercy coming next week (for) Atlanta."

SECOND LOOK

Chris Simms was sacked seven times, knocked down on 11 others and hurried on 13 passing attempts.

The result was a 28-0 bludgeoning by the Patriots, who held Tampa Bay to season-low 138 total yards.

It was the Bucs' first shutout loss since 1999, dropping them to 9-5.

Quarterback Tom Brady showed no ill effects of an injured shin that prevented him from practicing several days last week. He threw three touchdown passes, including a 1-yard strike to tackle Tom Ashworth lined up at fullback.

Meanwhile, New England's defense completely shut down the Bucs. First, they held Cadillac Williams to just 23 yards on 14 rushes, including 10 carries of 2 yards or less.

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