Tampa Bay is off to its best start in franchise history. The Bucs' 23-10 win over the Panthers on Sunday improved the Pewter Pirates' record to 8-2 and broke Tampa Bay's 1979 record for best start (7-2) in franchise history.
Needless to say, Gruden is content with his team's start after 10 games as Tampa Bay's head coach.
"We have (Dr.) Joe Diaco, our team physician, was in the locker room and he told me right after the game, ‘27 years and I've never been 8-2 before.'," said Gruden. "So we called out Dr. Diaco in front of the team, after the game. It's a great feeling, a great accomplishment, when you do something that hasn't been achieved. It's a great tribute to these players. At the same time, it's time to move on to the next goal, and that's trying to be the first team to go 9-2. We have a lot to prove, not only to ourselves but to our critics. This game Sunday gives us an opportunity to do that."
FIRST PLACE BUCS CONTROL THEIR OWN DESTINY:
The Buccaneers are in a tight NFC playoff race, but they are atop of the NFC in terms of playoff positioning thanks to its win over Carolina and losses by Green Bay, New Orleans and San Francisco last Sunday.
Although the playoff race is close, the Bucs are in the perfect situation because they control their own destiny.
The Bucs host the 8-2 Packers this Sunday, which will be a game for sole possession of best record in the NFL. Tampa Bay will then travel to New Orleans to play the 7-3 Saints in a game that will have first place in the NFC South Division at stake. The Bucs will then host 6-3-1 Falcons the following week in a game that will also have some serious playoff implications.
"We just control how we perform on a weekly basis," said Gruden. "It's that simple. There is a lot of games left to be played, we're just going to take them one game at a time and we'll see how we advance from there."
GAME OF THE YEAR?:
Since Tampa Bay and Green Bay are the only two teams in the league with an 8-2 record, some have said Sunday's contest between the Bucs and Packers will be the biggest game of the season thus far. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden said this game will definitely be his team's most important game of the season since it's the next one on the schedule.
"Yesterday's game has been the biggest game that I have ever been involved in," said Gruden. "And I'm sure this one will be the biggest I've ever been involved in because that's just how it is. Every Sunday is the same feeling to me, whether that's right or wrong (who knows). ‘Who is next,' that's what I ask my team every Wednesday. ‘Who's the best team on our schedule?' and everybody is going to say, ‘Green Bay.' And why is that men? ‘Because they are the next.' That's probably the simplest way to look at it, but that's how we do business here."
Sunday's contest will feature a potent Green Bay offense against Tampa Bay's No. 1 ranked defense.
The Packers, who are 3-2 on the road, are scoring an average of 28.8 points per game and they're averaging 119 yards rushing and 252 yards passing per game. Gruden said the Bucs' defense will have a tough challenge in terms of stopping the Packers' offense.
"We have to play good," said Gruden. "We are going to have to do a really good job. You talk about Brett Favre, he's magnificent. They have a tight end that's a threat. They have added tremendous speed to their lineup, with the emergence of (Robert) Ferguson, a second round pick from Texas A&M, Javon Walker is a number one pick from Florida State, with the addition of Terry Glenn and Donald Driver, you are going to see four guys that can really run. They have a balanced offensive attack and Ahman Green, let's not forget, is still a big-play back. It's going to be a great opportunity for our defense to match up against one of the premier offenses in the league."
The Buccaneers' defense is only allowing opposing offenses to score an average of 11.9 points per game this season. Tampa Bay is 4-1 at home this season and they've never lost to Green Bay in Raymond James Stadium (4-0).
Will and/or should the winner of the Bucs-Packers game be declared the best team in the NFL?
"That's just speculation right now, in terms of who the two top teams in the league are," said Gruden. "It's just network ratings and internet surveys and things like that. The top team in the league is the Super Bowl champion, we are just jockeying for position. Hopefully it's a game that a lot of people get a chance to see, but it's just football right now. It's a big game for both teams, that goes without saying."
BUCS RUNNING GAME IS WORKING, KIND OF:
Tampa Bay's rushing attack, which is averaging just 92.2 yards per game, has been less than stellar so far this season, but Gruden was somewhat pleased with what his team's ground game allowed his offense to do against Carolina last Sunday.
The Bucs rushed 29 times for just 67 yards (2.3 avg.), but Gruden said his commitment to RB Michael Pittman, who carried the ball 21 times for 57 yards (2.7 avg.), allowed the passing game to do some damage against the Panthers's secondary.
"It's been big," Gruden said of the team's running attack. "I'll be the first to admit that the chunks of yardage are small nuggets right now. It has been hard to find the big games. But we will stay committed to it and it does give our two-back, play-action passing game some sting. Rickey Dudley's big catch was off a single-back, play-action pass, and the threat of the run and commitment to the run has helped create some big plays in the passing game. Keyshawn's touchdown on fourth-and-goal is another example of play-action pass. But we need to run the ball better, because it certainly helps us throw the ball."
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on critics attaching "style points" to his team's victories:
"I'll say this, hopefully for the last time, show me who is winning pretty and send me the tape. That's all I want to see. I want to see what a beautiful win looks like. I don't know what the hell this is all about. I'm miserable when we lose, I'm not going to be miserable when we win. I realize there are areas where we need to improve. But somebody send me those tapes, I'm looking for a beautiful win."
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