The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are already assured of their second straight non-winning season since winning the Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean they’re ready to give up.
The Buccaneers look to keep their slim playoff hopes alive as they host the New Orleans Saints.
The Bucs lost 31-24 to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday for their third defeat in five games. The loss put Tampa Bay three games below .500 with games remaining against New Orleans, Carolina and Arizona.
However, the Bucs still have a mathematical chance of earning a spot in the playoffs, and coach Jon Gruden said he isn’t going to start thinking about the future just yet.
“The focus doesn’t change. You’ve got to practice and prepare for every game with the same intent, and that’s to win,” he said.
Gruden doesn’t plan to make any major changes in his lineup to give younger players more playing time. He pointed out that due to injuries—the Bucs have eight players on injured reserved and three others have missed significant time — a number of less-experienced players have already received a chance to prove themselves.
“We’ve been evaluating from the very beginning. There’s not a team in football that’s probably played more people than we have,” Gruden said.
“You might see a couple new faces, who knows? But we’re going to continue to try to win … because that’s the right thing to do. We’ve got a lot of pride in our locker room. At the same time, there are some younger players getting increased playing time, and hopefully they can take advantage of it.”
A win over the Chargers would have moved Tampa Bay into a tie with St. Louis and Carolina for the two NFC wild-card spots. But the Bucs had a fumble and an interception within a minute in the fourth quarter to allow San Diego to break a 21-21 tie.
“It is, like I said a couple of weeks ago … maddening,” Gruden said. “I love the game. I love our players. We are going to do everything we can to win this game. It will be, hopefully, our fifth game in a row that we win at home. It won’t be easy.”
Quarterback Brian Griese threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns on 36-of-50 passing against the Chargers, but was intercepted three times. Rookie wide receiver Michael Clayton caught nine passes for 145 yards and a touchdown.
The Saints beat the Dallas Cowboys 27-13 last Sunday, snapping a three-game losing streak and winning in Dallas for the first time in 10 tries. New Orleans’ offense gained 344 total yards, while the defense held the Cowboys to just 269—the first time the Saints have held an opponent to fewer than 300 yards this season.
The 13 points were also the fewest the Saints have given up this year.
Coach Jim Haslett, whose job could be on the line, was miffed at how everything suddenly clicked for his struggling team.
“If you figure it out, you tell me,” he said. “I’ve been trying to figure this out for two years.”
Deuce McAllister ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 30 carries, Donte Stallworth caught five passes for 113 yards and Joe Horn had five receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown for New Orleans.
“We’ve been long overdue, so it’s a great win,” said cornerback Mike McKenzie, who had one of the Saints’ two interceptions. “This was big win for us. We didn’t care if we played in North Dakota against the Cowboys, we needed a win in the worst way.”
Haslett is hoping his team can build on its momentum.
“We’re going to find out if we can put two good games in a row,” he said.