TAMPA - Coach Jon Gruden could have snarled at the mere suggestion that he has mellowed this season, made fewer "Chucky" faces on the sideline during the Bucs' 4-5 start.
Instead, he grinned.
"Well, you would mellow a little, too, if you lost some of the games in humbling fashion that maybe we have lost," Gruden said Monday. "I don't think I am less volatile.
"Maybe I'm maturing some."
If he is less demonstrative on the sideline than last season, when the Bucs were 12-4 and won the Super Bowl, Gruden assured he is no less intense when it comes to winning. In fact, the longer he considered it, the more he dismissed the theory.
"I'm hoarse after every game," he said. "I love football. I don't like where we are. I love the challenges and respect the ones that are ahead of us. Maybe I am mellowing with age, but I don't think so. I believe I'm as volatile as I have ever been. I don't know where that came from, but if you ask my wife or 9-year-old, that's totally inaccurate."
ROSTER MOVES: As expected, the Bucs brought back tight end Rickey Dudley, signing the eighth-year pro to a one-year contract. Terms were not disclosed.
Also, safety John Howell, who aggravated a hamstring injury in Sunday's loss to the Panthers, was placed on injured reserve.
Dudley, 6 feet 6, 255 pounds, played for the Bucs last season and went through training camp this season but sustained a high ankle sprain in the final preseason game. Released on Aug. 31, he reached an injury settlement with the team that prohibited his return until after 10 weeks.
Dudley's return is timely for the Bucs, who lost starter Ken Dilger early in Sunday's loss to the Panthers with an elbow injury. Dudley has the speed to stretch the field. Last season, he caught 15 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns for the Super Bowl champions. He also played special teams, an area where injuries have hurt the Bucs.
This preseason, Dudley caught three passes for 71 yards.
Howell, a third-year pro, played in eight games this season and is tied for fourth on the team with seven special teams tackles. CATCH NOMINATED: Keenan McCardell's 36-yard touchdown reception against the Panthers is among five candidates for NFL Play of the Week. The award is presented each week to recognize the most exciting play as determined by the fans.
Weekly winners are finalists for NFL Play of the Year.
The Bucs trailed 20-14 in the fourth when quarterback Brad Johnson lofted a third-down pass toward the right side of the end zone. Panthers cornerback Reggie Howard had inside position, but McCardell sliced in front to make a diving one-handed catch.
CRUNCH TIME: Johnson leads the NFL in fourth-quarter passer rating at 120.4. He is 57-of-79 (64.6 percent) for 683 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception in the final quarter.
BITS AND PIECES: With the first of two touchdowns against the Panthers, Johnson tied the team record of at least one in nine consecutive games. ... Defensive end Simeon Rice and the Panthers' Mike Rucker lead the NFC with 11 sacks. ... McCardell's 42 points rank fifth in the NFC among nonkickers. ... Four of Tampa Bay's losses are by three points.
INJURY REPORT: Linebacker Derrick Brooks (right wrist sprain) and safety David Gibson (broken finger) are probable. Dilger (left elbow), receivers Joe Jurevicius (right MCL tear) and Karl Williams (right ankle sprain), center Austin King (left knee sprain), linebackers Ryan Nece (eight ankle sprain) and Dwayne Rudd (right knee sprain) and cornerback Hank Poteat (right ankle sprain) are questionable. Safety Jermaine Phillips (broken right forearm) is out.