Bucs say they won't remain average
TAMPA, Fla. -- All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks found a glimmer of hope in an exasperating start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sunday's 17-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints dropped the Super Bowl champions to .500 at the season's midpoint.
"The first thought that came to my mind is that we are 4-4 and we faced a 4-4 football team in the Super Bowl," Brooks said, recalling how the Oakland Raiders shrugged off a mediocre start and made it to last season's NFL title game.
"Why can't that be us this year?" Brooks said. "That's what I am going to keep my focus on. Right now, it's anyone's game."
The Bucs, who've yet to win consecutive games, wasted an opportunity to trim Carolina's lead in the NFC South to one game heading into this week's showdown against the Panthers (6-2) in Charlotte.
They fell to 1-3 at home and have no one but themselves to blame for the uphill battle they face the rest of the way.
The Bucs lost a home game to Carolina in overtime after having an extra point blocked on the last play of regulation. They dropped another in overtime to Indianapolis after leading by three touchdowns with four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
On Sunday, the Bucs gave themselves a chance to win, despite having six turnovers and missing a 36-yard field goal.
They wiped out a 14-point deficit in the closing minutes only to watch New Orleans march half the field to win on John Carney's 47-yard field goal with 8 seconds left.
"If you're going to be a survivor in life, or a survivor in pro football, you've got to take the good with the bad," coach Jon Gruden said Monday.
"We're all sick. But at the same time, I think we're all encouraged by the fight in this football team. ... I wish we could play better, and we've got to coach better, certainly. But the heart, the drive, is there."
Injuries remain a problem.
The offensive line is in disarray with tackle Roman Oben and guard Jason Whittle hurting, receiver Joe Jurevicius has been out since the second week of the season, and the defense is playing with three new starters in the secondary and one at linebacker.
Mistakes have been costly, too.
"Everything's the problem. Turnovers, penalties, miscues," receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. "We had the defense on the field for the first 25-30 minutes (Sunday). ... You shouldn't do that. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot and it eventually caught up to us."
Gruden said one thing that hasn't been a factor in the team's inconsistency is complacency.
The coach is weary of comparisons between this year's team and the one that dominated last season's playoffs.
"Certainly, you don't want to forget about a Super Bowl championship run and a team. But we've got between 20 and 25 new guys contributing on this year's squad that weren't here then," Gruden said.
"I see the playoffs as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The regular-season schedule is halfway done. We've got eight more opportunities to establish ourselves as a playoff football team. That's what needs to be done."
The players are confident they can break the win-one, lose-one pattern and finish strong.
"We are very optimistic about our chances," said Johnson, who had 10 receptions for 124 yards against New Orleans. "We are not down at all."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index