Bucs running backs score twice, combine for more than 100 yards a second straight week.
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2002
DETROIT -- He will tell you he does not read the stories, watch the news or even listen to talk-radio hosts who routinely bash his name. He understands the Bucs running game, for the bulk of the season, has been a glaring weakness.
But steadily, if not slowly, Michael Pittman and the Bucs ground attack are beginning to show signs of consistency. After rushing for 150 yards Dec. 8 against the Falcons, the Bucs gained 123 Sunday, marking the first back-to-back 100-plus yards effort.
And for that, the fifth-year player in his first season with the Bucs was rewarded with his first touchdown of the season, a 4-yard fourth-quarter score that gave the Bucs a 20-13 lead.
"It meant a lot to get my first touchdown of the season when we needed it," said Pittman, who entered with 562 yards on 168 carries. "The offensive line opened a big hole for me and I just ran through it. It was a confidence builder."
Pittman said the critical touchdown offers some validation to the overall effort and trust the coaching staff has had in him during less productive games.
"Truthfully, I still want to get better for myself," said Pittman, who had 11 carries for 46 yards. "I don't listen to all the media critics. But as an NFL player, you don't want to hear bad things about you because you're out there busting your butt as hard as you can. But I'm a professional and I have to take that. I'm doing my best."
As it turns out, coach Jon Gruden's running back by committee approach appears to be clicking. Fullback Mike Alstott chipped in 47 yards on 11 carries and reserve running back Aaron Stecker had 28 on four carries.
"Coach said a few weeks ago that he was going to go running back by committee and he knows what our strengths and weaknesses are," Stecker said. "He trusts us and himself to put us in plays where he thinks we can make things happen."
Added Gruden: "We got some work done. We were able to make some nice positive gains. I was not happy with our inside-the-5 running ... but there were some good things."
Alstott, who scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter to give him a team-high seven TDs (five rushing, two receiving) said it took time to get all three running backs involved.
"It doesn't happen overnight," Alstott said. "It's a new coach, a new offense with new players and chemistry has to take place. Things have to click for you to get your confidence. Last two weeks have been good days as far as getting some first downs with the running game, scoring some touchdowns with the running game and closing out games with the running game. It's positive. We're growing with confidence."