Another Slow Start Plagues Defense
If there has been one thing the Bucs could rest their laurels on for years, it was the defense's ability to close out games. The offense might struggle, but if the Bucs could somehow score a few points, Tampa Bay's defense usually managed to take care of the rest. This year, Tampa Bay's problem has not been the way it has finished, but its dreadful beginnings.

The Bucs continued their alarming new trend of falling behind early Sunday, and despite a brief recovery to make a game of it, they were defeated by New Orleans, 31-14. Tampa Bay trailed 14-0 only 9:25 into the first quarter, and was behind 17-0 early in the second - unheard of from a defense that has finished in the top 10 in the league the past nine seasons.

"Defensively, we gave up way too many big plays. I don't understand it, I really don't, but we have to make the corrections, and all I can say is to fall behind against a team that leads the division at home, 17-0, is not what we are about here," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.

Although Gruden has emphasized the need for his team to start strong, those desires have not been fulfilled to his satisfaction. Tampa Bay has trailed at halftime in seven of its eight games. The Bucs trailed Baltimore by 17 at the half, Carolina by 13 and Atlanta and the New York Giants by 11. On Sunday, Tampa Bay did not convert a first down until there was nearly five minutes remaining before halftime and trailed 17-14 heading into the locker room.

What is frustrating Tampa Bay's coaches and players is the defense's inconsistency, because even though the Bucs held Saints running backs Deuce McAllister (15 carries, 32 yards) and Reggie Bush (11 carries, minus-5 yards) in check, quarterback Drew Brees completed 24 of 32 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns.

"That is important [having a good start]. At times we have done good, and at times we haven't," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. " Our tackling has not been real good. We have to do the whole thing. We can't just tackle well, but give up the big plays. We can't just hold down the pass, but not tackle. You have to do the whole thing, and that's the difference between a really good defense and one that isn't playing well right now. We have not been real consistent. We had a good game last week, but didn't have one today. We come back next week and we have to play good against Carolina, then we have to do it the next week after that. You got to be consistent."

Even though Tampa Bay climbed back into the game late in the second quarter, New Orleans scored 14 unanswered points in the second half to finish the game much like it started. Now the biggest challenge the Bucs defense faces is figuring how to correct its woeful starts before finishing with a third losing season in four years.

"At the beginning of the year, we signed up for 16 games. Last time I checked, we have eight more game and I'm still signed up," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We'll go back to work. It's what we do. It's what we have to do."

Anwar Richardson, The Tampa Tribune 6 November 2006