Originally created 09/21/03

Bucs trying to bounce back from rare loss



ATLANTA -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are feeling a bit more vulnerable these days.

Yes, they're still the Super Bowl champions. No, they're not invincible.

Actually, the Bucs are just like any other NFL team in this respect: It's hard to overcome a bunch of silly mistakes.

"We got that bitter taste of humble pie," defensive end Simeon Rice said. "We understand that we have a lot to improve on, a lot to be done. It's good that we get all the kinks out now, early, and find out where we are and the things we really have to work on."

The kicking game would be a good place to start heading into Sunday's NFC South game against the Atlanta Falcons. Last week, the Bucs (1-1) had a monumental meltdown in a 12-9 loss to Carolina.

Martin Gramatica, one of the league's most accurate kickers, had a couple of field goal attempts blocked, which was bad enough. Tampa Bay was still in position to win the game with a measly extra point on the final play of regulation, but the Panthers knocked it away, too.

Carolina won in overtime on John Kasay's fourth field goal.

Gramatica, who had gone 129 extra points without a miss, said he's not going to let one bad game ruin his confidence or his faith in those around him.

"I'm not going to think about it," he said. "My first kick in Atlanta, I'm definitely not going to think about it. The guys up front do a great job. It just happened to be a bad day like everybody has a bad day. This definitely is not going to change how I feel about those guys."

The Falcons (1-1) are trying to exorcise their own bitter memories from Week 2.

Cheered on by a raucous sellout crowd, Atlanta quickly built a 17-0 lead against the Washington Redskins, prompting plenty of strutting and posing by the home team.

Alas, the game still had nearly three quarters to go. Patrick Ramsey and Laveranues Coles both had career days, the Washington defense stifled Doug Johnson and the Redskins rallied for a stunning 33-31 victory.

"We gave that game away," linebacker Chris Draft said. "Everyone is mad about that. It was real ugly. We were up 17-0, but it wasn't just 17-0. We were really getting after them. To let them come back and beat us is just ridiculous."

The Falcons have some issues of their own, starting with receiver Peerless Price. He has only four receptions in the first two games and made it clear he wants more passes thrown in his direction.

"I don't care who's on me," said Price, who was shut down last week by Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey. "They pay me to do the job. Whoever decides to cover me, I've still got to go out and catch the ball."

Falcons coach Dan Reeves, taking his second shot at career victory No. 200, said he didn't mind Price speaking out on his lack of involvement in the offense.

"If Peerless didn't want the football, that would bother me more," Reeves said. "Am I pleased as a coach that we've only gotten the ball to him four times? No. I understand that we've got a better chance to win if we get the ball in his hands."

Keyshawn Johnson can relate to Price's plight, having written "Just Give Me The Damn Ball" as a rookie. Johnson has no such complaints this season, already catching 15 passes for 185 yards.

The Bucs, in fact, have thrown an NFL-high 97 times, compared with only 53 rushing attempts.

"When you have first-and-25, second-and-20, third-and-15, you have to pass," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "If we need to run 50 times or if we need to call 50 passes, we will do it. That's kind of where this team is."

The Falcons must get more production out of their running game. They're averaging 98.5 yards a game, which won't get it done against a defense that has yet to allow a touchdown this season.

If Tampa Bay can shut down the run and start teeing off on Johnson, it's going to be a long day for the Atlanta quarterback, who's filling in while Michael Vick recovers from a broken leg.

"Every team that had beaten them in the last year had shown you have to wear them down," said Falcons running back Warrick Dunn, a former Buccaneer. "They draft speed more than size. It's all about speed."

The Falcons didn't have any success dealing with all that speed a year ago. While both teams made the playoffs, Tampa Bay dominated the two regular-season meetings, winning 20-6 at the Georgia Dome and 34-10 at home. And the Falcons had Vick for those games.

"That's last year," Draft said. "The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the world champions of the 2002 season. That doesn't mean they're going to win anything this year."