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Consistent performance lacking in opener

On offense and defense, the first team struggled against Miami. Tony Dungy knows that has to change.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 15, 2001


TAMPA -- There were no major issues with the turf at Raymond James Stadium to force the cancellation of the Bucs-Dolphins preseason game Monday night.

Too bad, says Bucs coach Tony Dungy.

"Maybe that's not as good," Dungy said, referring to the cancellation of the Baltimore-Philadelphia game because of poor turf conditions at Veterans Stadium. "Maybe it should've been us." That's because when it counted most in the first quarter, the Bucs played on a very uneven field.

While the first units were on the field, Tampa Bay was outgained 145-1 to start the game.

Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson struggled in his debut, participating in 10 offensive plays. He was 2-of-4 passing for 18 yards and led his team to one first down. Johnson was sacked three times, committing a fumble that led to the Dolphins' first touchdown. He also had one pass dropped and another caught out of bounds.

Defensively, the Bucs gave up big plays, including a 49-yard screen pass from Jay Fiedler to running back Autry Denson.

"At the end of the first quarter, it's 145 yards to 1. So our defense wasn't playing very well and our offense wasn't playing very well," Dungy said. "That was disappointing. "The problem is, that's what we talked about since the end of last season. If we want to get where we want to go, we've got to be a consistent team. We've got to play well all the time. I think great teams do that."

To make matters worse, most of the Bucs' most glaring errors were made by veterans, not eager rookies making their first NFL appearance.

"Obviously, the younger guys have got a lot going on in their mind with the first game and that type of thing," Dungy said. "But the majority of our mistakes weren't necessarily by younger guys so it's something we've got to get corrected.

"It's something that we've looked at every year. When we don't make mistakes, we're a pretty good team. When we do make mistakes like we did in the first quarter (Monday), we're very much below average."

Johnson faced pressure from the Dolphins' array of blitzes, twice facing players that came free through the middle of the line.

Dungy said the Bucs were prepared for defensive pressure but blew some blocking assignments.

"It's obviously something we've got to do a better job of, working on our blitz pickup," Dungy said. "We had two blitz periods against them (in practice) and we were very familiar with what they were going to do. But it just becomes a matter of doing it. We've got to make the right calls up front and block the right guys. We've got to catch the ball when it's thrown to us. We've got to line up in the right formations so we won't have penalties that way. It was very basic things, fundamental things that we shouldn't have with veteran guys."

While Johnson was accurate the few times the ball left his hand, the Bucs had much more success offensively behind backup Shaun King and Joe Hamilton.

King was 9-of-17 for 105 yards and an 8-yard touchdown to Karl Williams.

Hamilton rallied the Bucs in the fourth quarter, tossing a 6-yard touchdown to Aaron Stecker with 1:09 remaining to give Tampa Bay a 14-10 lead.

Overall, Dungy said he was pleased with the play of his quarterbacks.

"Brad didn't have much of an opportunity. He threw the ball four times, one was dropped and one was caught out of bounds," he said. "Shaun actually did a good job moving the team, made some good throws, had pretty good protection for the most part.

"Ryan (Leaf), the time that he was in there, was kind of a penalty situation. They had them or we had them just about every play. We got down close and threw the ball a little too hard to catch, it got tipped and was intercepted. Joe Hamilton had some drives going and got the one bad snap, but was able to come back and lead us in. Overall, I thought when the quarterbacks had a chance to do something, they did it for the most part."

But overall, it was a disappointing start to the preseason for the Bucs, who lost for only the sixth time at RJS.

"There were some good individual performances to take out of

there. As a team, we didn't do what we needed to do and that's disappointing," Dungy said. "To come out in your home opener, we wanted to be a lot sharper than we were. I didn't think offensively or defensively we were sharp enough in the first quarter with our first groups out there.

"That's what I've been saying for while. Hopefully, people will start paying attention to it. Talent isn't what wins. Once you get this player or that player, you're not going to automatically win. Because someone says you're a favorite doesn't make you a favorite. You have to play."

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