Bucs Effective in Crunch Time

In the previous two seasons, Tampa Bay was 4-15 in games decided by seven points or less. This season they are 4-2, including Sunday's 30-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Matt Bryant's 45-yard field goal with 42 seconds left.

"Placekicking is a big part of close games," coach Jon Gruden said. "Let's start right there. You can't finish dead last in field-goal accuracy two years in a row and win a hell of a lot of tight games. Matt Bryant has won us some tight games, there's no question. Green Bay. (Atlanta). He's come up huge.

"And to be honest with you, we're playing a little bit better offensively, which has allowed us to come from behind and win some games that maybe we weren't able to do last year. Like San Diego, like St. Louis, where games expired with us closing in on a dramatic victory. And our defense has held on in some situations, unlike last year in Carolina and some other instances."

Bryant, a free agent who played with the Giants and Dolphins, has made 14 of 16 field goal attempts. That's a big improvement over the past two seasons when Martin Gramatica connected on 16 of 26 field-goal tries in 2003, and Gramatica and Jay Taylor made 15 of 24 last year.

That doesn't include a blocked extra point with no time remaining that would've sealed a victory over Carolina two years ago.

"Well, we missed two mid-range field goals against the Rams (last season)," Gruden said. "We missed three at Carolina. You lose by three or four points. You hate to point fingers. I don't know anybody who wins tournaments on the golfing tour who's last in the tour in putting accuracy, if you know what I mean. You've got to put the ball in the hole."

It also helps that the Bucs have been able to put the ball in the end zone.

Twice in the last two games, quarterback Chris Simms has engineered touchdown drives to tie the score or take the lead. Just as important, the Bucs defense has overcome bad plays to get the ball back for the offense in the fourth quarter.

"I think our heart shows in these situations," Simms said. "We're just not going to quit no matter what this year. We've just found ways to get it done. I don't know if there's any one thing I can put my finger on. It's just that the defense has come up big in a lot of games and the offense has done some things when we've had to."

While the Bucs defense allowed a season-high 443 yards to the Falcons on Sunday, it also produced big turnovers. Simeon Rice's sack of backup quarterback Matt Schaub resulted in Anthony McFarland's fumble recovery for a touchdown. Derrick Brooks caused a Michael Vick fumble to set up Bryant's game-winner.

"In think so many of us get enamored with stats," Gruden said. "It really drives me crazy to be honest with you. I remember the 17-0 Dolphins and I don't even know if Paul Warfield caught 40 passes. They didn't care about QB ratings. But I try not to get totally freaked out by giving up 26 first downs. I'll tell you this, they play hard, they were dominant early and dominant late when they had to be, and that's pretty damn good."

Brooks said Gruden has done a good job of preparing the Bucs.

"It's a credit to our resilience," Brooks said. "Perseverance. Knowing that there's going to be some adversity in the ballgame, and we did a good job of overcoming it the past two weeks."

And that has the Bucs believing they can win close games again.

"I think it's a mind-set," receiver Michael Clayton said. "Season after season, if you go in and you're losing (close) games like that, I think it's easy to fall into the mind-set of, 'Oh, man, here we go again.' But just to come out and win and have some games this year where we had to play hard down the stretch and knowing how to play through it until the scoreboard clock reads zero, you get into the mind-set of this is what we're good at now. We can win these games and go in with a positive attitude."

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