No Apology Needed, Coach: Destiny Is In Your Hands
Jon Gruden would like to say he's sorry. He'd like to say he's sorry from the bottom of his heart, which rests, along with his team, atop the NFC South and tied atop the National Football League leader board. The Bucs head coach would like to beg for your forgiveness. We said he'd like to. Chucky don't beg. ``What am I supposed to do?'' Gruden said, ``Apologize for being 8-2?''

The Bucs have the best record in football along with the Green Bay Packers, who come to town Sunday. It's up to the Bucs. It's in their hands. Whether or not you like everything they do, you can't deny their increasingly enviable position. Nor can they, especially veterans who know dark history. John Lynch alluded to Sam Wyche when considering the state of the franchise after Sunday's 23-10 win against Carolina. ``We've had 5-dash-2, but never 8-dash-2.''

Not only that, they are getting breaks, including the one to Donovan McNabb's ankle. The Saints, Packers and 49ers lost Sunday. After Green Bay, the Bucs get New Orleans. A few more wins and they could be awash in playoff tiebreakers. It's in their hands. There are those who can't believe it. Is this really a dominant club? With no running game? With all that mucking around Sunday? Is this truly the best the NFL has to offer? Well, if the Bucs are, it's their own fault. Back to Gruden. ``By God, somebody has to win the games.''

Warren Sapp had never been to the land of 8-2 as a professional. Strange feeling. Good feeling. For the record, he feels complaining about how the Bucs have looked getting to this record sounds like a broken record. ``There's a row that says wins and a row that says losses, and they just rack 'em,'' Sapp said. ``They don't say you beat [Carolina] by three the last time or by 13 this time. They just rack 'em. They say, `Where you at?' ''

The man who caught the winning points agreed. Keenan McCardell's catch of a Brad Johnson floater had an 8-dash-2 of hilarity. McCardell grabbed the ball inside the 10 and turned to make a move, break a tackle, take a hit, something. But there was no one there. Panthers cornerback Terry Cousin had turned out as McCardell turned in for the post. McCardell could have rolled the ball into the end zone with his nose.

To snooty skeptics, that sums up Buc success. Nevermind the monster defense or that parts of the offense are showing improvement. They are on top because no one bothers stopping them. The critics croon. McCardell just smiles. In 1999, he played for a Jacksonville Jaguars team that went 14-2, and along the way he heard the things he hears now. ``We were running under the radar,'' McCardell said. ``I don't mind if we keep running under the radar here. That's cool. We'll just keep winning. We don't need glitz or glory.''

Keyshawn Johnson, who has never minded glitz or glory, still dug what Keenan said. Keyshawn also scored, though he made his points on fourth-and-goal to get the Bucs into this game. It was his fourth score of the year. What the heck is up with that? ``We can continue to thrash people the way we do,'' Johnson said. ``I'm slow. I'm no good. Brad is over the hill. His arm isn't strong enough. Warren Sapp talks too much. Keenan McCardell is too old. We don't have no running game. I'll continue to live with that at 8-2 and move on to 9-2.''

Nobody is fooled. It will take more than this defense, which was ridiculously good when it counted, holding Carolina to 92 yards after halftime and playing takeaway into the night. It will take more. The head coach knows that, too. But Gruden clearly sounds more sick than tired of having to stand in front of media and fans to examine these victories as if they were losses. ``I'm not getting too giddy,'' Gruden said. ``But everyone says, `Hey, you're the most miserable guy alive.' It's hard not to be in this town, know what I mean? We would like to be, how shall I say, friendlier to your eyes in terms of all our plays in the game? Sure. But I'm proud of this team. ... We're finding ways to win in a league where that's really pretty hard.''

For the record, Gruden turned to team physician Joe Diaco, who has been with the Bucs since shortly after the knee was invented. ``Doc, you ever been 8-2?'' Gruden asked. ``Nope,'' Diaco said. By God, rack it up.