Eager To Re-Establish Its Standard
The Tampa Tribune, published 1 January 2007

Bring on 2007. The Bucs defense certainly couldn't wait to ring in the New Year. The unit hopes to play like it's 1997, the year it began dominating the league with the first of nine consecutive top-10 finishes, including two No. 1 rankings. That streak ended this season. Entering Sunday's game, the Bucs defense was ranked 17th overall - 17th against the run and tied for 18th against the pass.

"We need to re-establish that standard," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "If there's a positive in what we've been through, it's knowing exactly what we don't want. A lot of what happened this year, we can look back on and learn from it and try to find ways to improve. Because we weren't as good as we've been and that's not going to win around here."

On average, the Bucs defense gave up 329 yards per game, only the second time since 1996 - 300.0 in '96 and 300.0 in 2000 - the unit gave up 300 yards on average. In the 23-7 loss to Seattle on Sunday, Tampa Bay gave up 344 total yards, including 132 rushing.

"Our standards have been set high here and so have the expectations," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "We have no excuses this year. We expect to come back next year. I feel responsible. It starts with the coordinator and I take total responsibility. There's no doubt about it, we didn't get it done."

The Bucs defense has grown accustomed to carrying the team on its shoulders. The season the Bucs won the Super Bowl, the defense was the top-ranked unit in the league and the biggest reason why players got to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. This season, for a variety of reasons, the team couldn't always count on the defense.

"Our defensive success usually correlates to wins and we didn't play consistent enough on defense all year long," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "We only have four wins and that's part of the reason for that."

Tampa Bay's defense lost starting left cornerback Brian Kelly early in the season to a turf toe injury. A shoulder injury forced the Bucs to place starting defensive end Simeon Rice on injured reserve on Nov. 22. The loss of the two starters was a blow to the defense, but one the team refuses to use as an excuse for the subpar level of play.

"We just need guys to play better," Barber said. "We've always had a high level of accountability around here. And that can't falter, regardless of the situation and how many bad plays we've had. It's got to get back to that."

During the team meeting Saturday night, Kiffin reminded his players to stay on the ship and not abandon it - a theme the defense carried throughout the season. "I will say the best thing about this unit, there's no quit on this defense," Kiffin said. "I can't guarantee everything, but I'll guarantee there's no quit on this defense."