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Bucs tried to block out distractions

The players say they were motivated to win with Tony Dungy's job possibly on the line.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002

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PHILADELPHIA -- In their locker room, the sign is written in big, bold letters: "No excuses, no explanations."

It is the mantra of Bucs players and the coaching staff. It is and should be the only way to look at Saturday's 31-9 loss to Philadelphia in the opening round of the playoffs.

But in a gloomy locker room at Veterans Stadium, some Bucs admitted the rumors concerning coach Tony Dungy's job security were hard to ignore.

Even if the coach stressed that his team pay no attention to talk of his possible firing.

"I thought we would turn that into motivation," Pro Bowl safety John Lynch said. "Use it to our advantage, if we could, and obviously we didn't. ... You either get it out of your mind (or you don't). But it was so prevalent, so present in what we were doing.

"There's sadness. I really felt that this was our year. That was there. To see it kind of go away this quickly is kind of sad."

Added defensive back Dexter Jackson: "Coming into the game we said, first of all, let's win this game and then let's win this game for Coach. That was on my mind and I'm sure other guys felt that way, too."

While the margin of defeat was only a point worse than the 21-3 beating by the Eagles last season, this one had a particularly nasty sting.

No matter how much players and coaches denied it, the team's failure to comment on Dungy's future and the reports surfacing that Bill Parcells has an agreement to come on board must have had an impact.

"Of course, you're going to think about the whole situation," cornerback Donnie Abraham said. "But you can't let it get into interfering with your play. We had a job to do and we came out with every intention of doing it and we didn't do it."

The reality is, after finishing the regular season 9-7, one fewer win than last year, with a team many felt was a legitimate Super Bowl contender, another appearance in the postseason might not be enough. "We read the papers, we see the TV, we know what is being said," linebacker Jamie Duncan said. "We want him back here. But we can't let that overwhelm us from going out there and doing our job. It was in the back of our minds, of course."

Tight end Dave Moore, a 10-year-veteran who was with the Bucs during much darker days, said he was aware of the climate surrounding Dungy's future but said he's not sure a change will happen.

"I was here through the last coaching change and you knew it was coming," Moore said of Sam Wyche's firing at the end of the 1995 season. "It was time for a change. From players, to coaches, to assistant coaches, you knew it was coming. I really don't feel that now. I will be shocked.

"I have friends who play for teams like Cincinnati and Cleveland, teams who have not been able to turn the corner, and for him to come down here and turn this franchise in the time he did? Look, I spent four years playing some ugly football and Tony changed that. He took us to the playoffs four of five years."

Dungy, well-liked throughout the NFL, even got a vote of confidence from the man whose team might have sealed his fate.

"I think we all need to pat him on the back," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He has taken the program there and brought that thing back. With the winning seasons and the playoffs, I just can't say enough about him. He's a class act and I wish him the best."

Typically, Dungy deflected talk about the rumors distracting his team.

"It wasn't a factor and don't discredit Philadelphia by (suggesting it)," he said.

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