TAMPA, Fla. -- There's no room for complacency in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' plan to take what they feel is a rightful place among the NFL's elite teams.
The season ended Sunday with the Bucs talking not so much about correcting errors they made in an 11-6 loss to St. Louis in the NFC championship game, but rather avoiding the mistakes they made after bowing out of the playoffs two years ago.
"I think we got a little big-headed and forgot about all the hard work that went into getting where we were," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "We can't let that happen again."
The Bucs went 8-8 and missed the playoffs in 1998 after a breakthrough season the year before. They used the .500 finish as motivation to rebound in 1999, and set a franchise record for victories en route to their first NFC Central Division title in 18 years.
Now, the challenge is to not take another step back.
"We were one play away from the greatest show on earth and we've got to realize the type of effort and desire and work that it takes to get to this point, and find a way to get it done again," Sapp said.
"I like my chances with this ball club. I'll go to war with them every day of the week and twice on Sunday. No doubt about it. Put this same ball club back together a year from now, invite us to the dance and we're going to go at it again."
There's a good chance, though, that there will be changes in 2000 -- especially on offense.
The Bucs ranked 30th in passing and 28th overall, and the problem they had scoring points was never more evident than Sunday when the defense shut down the explosive Rams but the offense settled for a pair of field goals on two trips inside the St. Louis 10.
Coach Tony Dungy said Monday that one of the first orders of business in the off-season will be determining what, if any, changes need to be made in the offensive system to give rookie quarterback Shaun King the best chance to succeed.
King replaced the injured Trent Dilfer in late November and was 5-1 as a starter during Tampa Bay's drive to the NFC title game. His inexperience was a factor against the Rams, although Dungy didn't see anything that changed his mind about the rookie's abilities.
"We have to decide philosophically what we're going to be," the coach said.
"We've got a good defense in place. We've got some offensive weaponry, and we have to decide how we're going to attack. Are we going to become what Shaun was at Tulane (passing team) ... or are we going to be what we were in '97 (running team) and try to execute a little better."
One thing Dungy said he does not intend to do is change offensive coordinators. Mike Shula's scheme worked for the team two years ago, and Dungy is confident the team can increase its productivity by cutting down on turnovers and sacks.
"I'm just not a big believer that because you change coaches, all of a sudden everything's going to be great," Dungy said.
"What we were doing and how we were trying to do it, I don't have a problem with that. Had we not turned it over as much, I think we would have won two or three more games. Mike doesn't carry the ball. Mike doesn't throw the ball. Mike doesn't catch the ball."
Also don't look for the team to bring in a high-priced free agent in hopes he's the player who can get the team over the hump. The Bucs have two first-round picks in the draft and probably will use them to try to upgrade the offense.
The possible retirement of left tackle Paul Gruber may dictate that at least one of those picks be used on an offensive lineman.
"I've never been a believer in the one-guy philosophy. I haven't seen it work very often," Dungy said. "I just think you have to build soundly and smartly and try to examine where you are. I like going through the draft."
The Bucs face a decision this winter on whether to exercise a $4.6 million option to bring back Dilfer, who missed the last two months of the season with a broken right collarbone.
His salary, as well as King's rapid development, will figure into a decision that Dungy said probably will be made before he and his assistants leave later this week for the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
"We started those discussions (Monday), we're going to sit down (Tuesday) and we are going to make a quick decision on it -- just to be fair to him and get a little direction for ourselves," the coach said.
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