Bucs News And Notes: Monday

December 2 – The Bucs have some banged up players after its 23-20 loss to the Saints on Sunday night, but DT Anthony McFarland will likely play against Atlanta. What did head coach Jon Gruden have to say about his team's dismal rushing performance against the Saints? Why is Gruden displeased with the officiating from Sunday night's game? Want Gruden's thoughts on the tight NFC South Division race? PewterReport.com has the answers to these questions and more in this notebook.

"BOOGER" TO RETURN TO NOSE TACKLE SUNDAY?:

Not only did Tampa Bay lose a tough one to New Orleans on Sunday night, but they suffered several casualties in the process.

Bucs starting quarterback Brad Johnson suffered a bruised right hand and he will be listed as probable for Sunday's game.

Bucs defensive tackle/defensive end Ellis Wyms re-aggravated a right ankle sprain on Sunday night and will be listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Atlanta. Bucs defensive tackle Chartric Darby suffered a lower left quad contusion and he will be listed as probable. Both players had been filling in at nose tackle for Anthony McFarland.

Bucs running back and kickoff return man Aaron Stecker suffered a right lower leg contusion. Bucs running back Michael Pittman suffered a neck strain. Both running backs will likely be listed as probable for Sunday's game.

Tampa Bay free safety Dexter Jackson suffered a right quad contusion and he'll also be listed as probable for the team's game against Atlanta.

Tampa Bay WR Keenan McCardell suffered a left gastroc strain against the Saints. Wide receiver Karl Williams suffered a left ankle sprain. Both players will be listed as probable when the team's official injury report is released Wednesday.

In other injury-related news, Tampa Bay nose tackle Anthony McFarland, who has been sidelined four consecutive games with a fractured forearm, will likely return to action this Sunday against Atlanta.

"We're upgrading Anthony McFarland, with a right forearm fracture, to probable for this game," Gruden said Monday morning. "That doesn't mean probably doubtful. That means probable for the game."

McFarland nearly played against New Orleans on Sunday night, but the team thought it would be best to give "Booger" another week to recover from the injury he sustained against Carolina on Oct. 27.

"He was close," Gruden said of McFarland almost playing against New Orleans. "We just felt medically, with the research we had done and the doctors had done, that this injury, regardless of how he feels, needs "X" amount of days to legitimately heal. And for that reason, we held him out for another game and we're going to let him go this week if everything goes according to plan."

AFTER FURTHER REVIEW…

There were some very questionable calls made by the officials during Sunday night's Bucs-Saints contest. Unfortunately for the Bucs, some of them didn't go their way.

One of the controversial calls was made in the second quarter when Saints running back Deuce McAllister apparently fumbled the football after being tackled in the backfield for a loss. The play was, indeed, a fumble, and Tampa Bay defensive end Simeon Rice recovered the loose ball in the end zone for what would have been a Bucs touchdown. But even though McAllister was not down, the officials had blown the play dead just before the ball actually dislodged from McAllister's arm.

Needless to say, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden was not pleased with what he thought was a bogus call.

"That was a fumble," Gruden said adamantly. "Yes, the McAllister play was a fumble. They blew the whistle dead or whatever they want to say, but if the man does not touch the ground and lands on their player or our player, then that's a fumble. Unfortunately it wasn't interpreted that way."

Then, in the second half, Bucs kick returner Aaron Stecker was tackled and his forward progress had apparently stopped while his knees went toward the field, but they couldn't actually touch it because they landed on a Saints player. While Stecker approached the ground, he had the ball stripped out of his hands and the officials ruled it a fumble. Gruden challenged the play, but it was to no avail. Fortunately for the Bucs, linebacker Al Singleton sacked and caused Saints QB Aaron Brooks to fumble on the next play, which gave Tampa Bay's offense the ball.

"I felt that Aaron Stecker's momentum had him going backwards and for that reason, at the officiating meetings I go to, they tell me that play is dead and it's a non-fumble," Gruden said of the play.

"But we're not going to make excuses. We had numerous opportunities to overcome those plays and we just didn't get it done."

RUNNING ON EMPTY:

Tampa Bay's running game hardly existed Sunday night. The Bucs rushed just 16 times for 34 yards (2.1 avg.), which made its offense one-dimensional throughout the game.

The Bucs are averaging just 87.4 yards per carry this season and running back Michael Pittman has carried the ball 159 times for 537 yards (3.4 avg.) and he has yet to score his first touchdown as a Buc this season. So, has Tampa Bay's running game shown any sort of promise over the last 12 games?

"I wouldn't even say "promise" is a good word," Gruden said of Tampa Bay's woeful running game. "It wasn't good last night from a single-back set to a two-back set to a double-tight end set to a balanced formation – it wasn't very good. All I can say is we take it very personally around here and we're very disappointed in the results. We're not going to blame a back or blame a lineman. We're going to look at ourselves, all of us, and we're going to go back to work this week. It's too late in the season to make a bunch of excuses. The bottom line is it's unacceptable and it's putting us in some unbelievably difficult situations. Fortunately for us, our quarterback is playing extremely well. What's he's done the past four games particularly is outstanding. But we're not pleased at all with it."

BUCS STAYING CONSISTENT :

While Tampa Bay's offense hasn't been as consistent as it would like it to be, the team as a whole has stayed very consistent in terms of record. The Bucs are ¾ of the way through the 2002 season and in each of those quarters, Tampa Bay has produced a 3-1 record.

"All I can say is the Buccaneers are 3-1 in every quarter," said Gruden. "The three losses we have suffered this football team has competed hard and put themselves in position to find ways to win in the end."

Tampa Bay will enter the last quarter of the season this Sunday when they play Atlanta. The Bucs will then travel to Detroit, host Pittsburgh and conclude the regular season at Chicago.

NFC SOUTH DIVISION IS WEAK, EH? :

Before the 2002 season started, many people thought the NFC South Division would be the weakest division in football. But after 13 weeks, the NFC South Division is actually the toughest division in the NFL, hands down. In fact, three out of the four teams in the division have a winning record and only the AFC East can claim that same statistic.

The NFC South Division race is extremely tight with just four games remaining in the season. The 9-3 Bucs are in first place ahead of the 8-3-1 Falcons, and both teams will play each other Sunday at Ray-Jay. The 8-4 Saints are one game behind the Bucs, but they own the tiebreaker because they swept the Pewter Pirates this season. The Falcons own a tiebreaker with the Saints because the "Dirty Birds" swept New Orleans this season. And of course, the Bucs have a chance to sweep the Falcons on Sunday.

"Everybody is log-jammed together," Gruden said. Of the NFC South Division "Atlanta beat New Orleans twice, New Orleans beat us twice and we get a chance to beat Atlanta twice this week if we can get it done. Everybody commented before the season how this was going to be the weakest conference of them all. Wouldn't you know it? It's Week 13 and I'd like to find some of these prognosticators and critique them a little bit at their press conferences. It's an amazing league.

"It's a tough conference we're in and it will be decided in the end."


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