For Those Distracted: Bucs On A Win Streak
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 15 December 2003

It wasn't a bad day. It wasn't a bad day considering the week that was and the season that has been. You could even say it was a good day. ``We're at .500, we've won two games in a row and we got Saddam,'' John Lynch said.

It's all relative. The Bucs' post-McKay distraction was just another day in a world filled with issues astronomically more important than that. It's even relative when you get inside Sunday's 16-3 win against Houston. Relative to two weeks ago, when the defending world champions were 5-7, 7-7 looks good. ``Still alive,'' Jon Gruden said.

He's taken heat of late. But then you looked out at his team and, though it was against an awful Texans team, you can't say the Bucs didn't come to play. They gained 398 yards and held Houston to 107. They did what they had to do before playing scoreboard. The news was not good. Seattle, San Francisco and Minnesota lost, but Green Bay, Dallas and Carolina won. Barely alive. Technically alive.

But any win is good news this season. First Keyshawn, now McKay. Hey, don't look now, but the Bucs are 2-0 in distraction games. ``Distractions are the norm,'' Lynch said.

Rich McKay wasn't at Raymond James Stadium for Sunday's game. It was the first time he has missed a Bucs game since 1992. Gruden and his team moved on. And they moved on pretty well, possibly taking a cue from late-season sensation Thomas Jones, who ran for 134 yards and a touchdown. ``Keep hammering,'' Jones said. ``Keep hammering.''

That's all the Bucs can do. Some of them seemed almost embarrassed at the arrival of a second consecutive win. In training camp, who could have told the champs it would take until Dec. 14 to win two straight. ``I would have thought you were crazy,'' Lynch said.

The Magic won two in a row before the Bucs. Has there ever been a wackier road to 7-7? From the blocked extra point to the injuries to the collapse against Indy to Keyshawn out of here to McKay following suit, there have been few, if any, sane moments. ``Just another bump,'' McCardell said of McKay week. Give them credit for handling it. Give their coach credit, too.

That's right. Their coach. No one is confusing beating New Orleans and Houston in consecutive weeks as the road to Repeatsville. No one is seriously thinking a batch of NFC teams will roll over for the Bucs to make the playoffs. But Sunday was for beating the distractions. Again. The Bucs won Keyshawn week. They won McKay week. McCardell, who went over 1,000 receiving yards Sunday, went back to a year he spent with Cleveland for perspective on Buc distractions. ``In '95 in Cleveland we had bomb threats,'' McCardell said. ``The Browns were leaving Cleveland. We're in the building and there's bomb threats. This is mild compared to that.''

Some guys were oblivious to distractions. Take Jones, who was acquired from Arizona before the season. Want a distraction? Everyone looked at him as the stopgap in case Michael Pittman's legal problems sunk him. Jones was always the other guy. Look at him now. He is getting his shot and making the most of it. Jones carried the ball 34 times Sunday. He cuts and moves like Pittman can't. What a find. ``You can't do anything about distractions,'' Jones said. ``You can only do what you do.''

Keep hammering. Keep hammering.