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Penalty leveled for domestic abuse conviction

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Michael Pittman has been suspended for three games by the NFL, the result of his domestic abuse conviction from an incident last year.

The suspension, Pittman's second in four seasons, was not unexpected and is likely shorter than some Bucs executives believed it would be. In private, team officials conceded this spring that they would likely lose Pittman for the first three games of the coming season.

In a move that came as the Bucs opened a mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday morning, Pittman was disciplined for an incident that occurred last May, when he rammed his Hummer H2 into a vehicle driven by his wife. The couple's infant son and a babysitter were passengers in the vehicle.

"Three games is a lot, but it could've been a lot worse,"
Pittman said, adding that his wife, teammates and coaches are
standing behind him.

"But it is a sense of relief because all year long it's been in
the back of my mind. … Last year I had a lot of pressure on me,
out there playing and thinking about other things. But right now, I
know what I got and what I have to do."

The incident occurred in Phoenix, where Pittman makes his offseason home. After much legal wrangling, Pittman, 28, subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of endangerment and served 14 days in jail.

Pittman's first league-mandated suspension, for one game, was in 2001. At the time he played for the Arizona Cardinals, the team which drafted him.

Under league policy, Pittman can continue to practice with the Bucs, can participate in training camp and in preseason games, preceding the suspension, which begins Sept. 5. He is eligible to return to the team Sept. 26, the day after the Bucs' third game of the season, against the Raiders. During his suspension, Pittman cannot use team facilities to work out.

This suspension will cost Pittman $441,176, or the equivalent of five game checks, based on his '04 base salary of $1.5 million. In addition to the three checks for missed games, commissioner Paul Tagliabue exercised his prerogative to increase the size of the financial impact, and he fined Pittman an additional two game checks.

"Obviously, it's a blow to our football team," coach Jon
Gruden said. "Michael Pittman's going to get an opportunity to
serve this suspension and come back, hopefully, a much better man.
Hopefully our whole football team, including Michael, will learn
from this situation."

In part because of Pittman's legal difficulties, but also to bolster the position overall, the Bucs signed a trio of unrestricted free agent tailbacks in the last few months. The most prominent is former Oakland Raiders star Charlie Garner, who is coming off knee surgery but likely will take over the starting job in Pittman's absence.

The Bucs also added veterans Jamel White (Cleveland) and Brandon Bennett (Cincinnati), so they have a number of insurance policies and certainly girded themselves for the potential of being forced to play without Pittman for the early portion of the schedule.

For now, at least, it is not believed the suspension will jeopardize Pittman's roster spot. Bucs officials had hinted in the offseason that, even if Pittman were suspended for four games, he would not be released.

"The league has looked into everything that was involved with
all of the previous cases and felt that this was a just punishment
and we agreed," Bucs general manager Bruce Allen said.

"It's a severe penalty. There's a fine included. It's longer
than the sentence he got in Arizona. He understands what he did
wrong. He understands what the future holds for him."

Tampa Bay acquired Pittman in 2002 as an unrestricted free agent. He led the Bucs in rushing the last two seasons, totaling 1,469 yards on 391 carries. The former Fresno State player started in 13 of 16 games last season but was replaced at the top of the depth chart by the now-departed Thomas Jones near the end of the season.

Information from ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press was used in this report.