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Flash: Bucs regret conservatism

After close call in Dallas, coaches say they should have opened up the passing game.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001

TAMPA -- Sometime after the schedule came out in the spring, Tony Dungy knew he couldn't win for winning in the season opener.

Not against the Dallas Cowboys. And certainly not when they opted to go with a rookie quarterback.

"If you play a close game and win, you're supposed to blow the Cowboys out and they have a rookie quarterback. And if you lose, the season is probably over," Dungy said.

"There was no way people were going to be satisfied no matter what. Maybe we got that game behind us. We'll see this week."

So here's a switch.

In his first start for Tampa Bay, quarterback Brad Johnson completed 74.3 percent of his passes (26-of-35), including his first nine. Yet the Bucs admit they probably were too conservative by not taking more shots downfield.

Never mind that only four times last season did the Bucs attempt more than the 35 passes thrown Sunday at Texas Stadium, and they lost three. And only twice last season did they complete more than 20. "We should've taken more than we did. That was one thing you critique, we should've been a little more aggressive with their two-deep (zone)," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. "We had a couple more shots downfield we could've taken, and we could've called the game a little more aggressive on their two deep. That's one thing we came out saying.

"I'd agree with what people say. I think we did struggle. We've got to score more than 10 points. We didn't finish drives, we didn't do the little things to get in the end zone. We've got to score more than 10 points. We did struggle."

Where the Bucs struggled most was in the running game. With three offensive linemen making their first NFL start (center Todd Washington, guard Cosey Colman and rookie tackle Kenyatta Walker), the Bucs gained 71 yards rushing on 22 carries, a 2.2-yard average.

"A little bit of it was our guys being young and overanxious and it was a little bit of a noise factor," Dungy said. "But they made a concerted effort to take our running game away. Part of that is the reason why we threw 26-for-35."

Turnovers also hurt the Bucs. One 15-play drive ended with a Warrick Dunn fumble. Another scoring opportunity was erased by Johnson's interception.

"Those are the things that disappoint me," Dungy said. "When you have a 13- or 14-play drive and fumble the ball going in, we get a turnover and throw an interception going in ... we didn't execute our running game as well as we could have. But if we continue to throw it at a 75 percent completion rate, continue to make first downs like that, we'll score enough."

Overall, Dungy was pleased with the play of Johnson, who beat the Cowboys for the first time in his career after four tries.

"It's my first time winning against those guys, so that was big to me," Johnson said.

Receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who was hobbled by a deep thigh bruise he sustained in the first quarter, said the injury prevented him from getting more yards after the catch.

"Oh yeah. It's not even close," he said. "Two times they threw me the ball on crossing routes, if I had some wheels ... I couldn't run. One time I caught the ball on third down and I got to our sideline and Warrick made a good block, but I couldn't turn. So I just ran out of bounds."

If anything, Dungy said, the Bucs were so effective throwing that they should have done it more. But then, nothing short of a blowout victory would have met expectations.

"We haven't thrown 26-for-35 around here," Dungy said. "They were determined not to run the ball. In hindsight, looking back on it, we probably should've thrown it every down and just have taken our gains on the outside. If we were a more wide-open oriented head coach we would've done it."

* * *

UP NEXT: Bucs vs. Eagles, 1 p.m. Sunday, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa. TV: Ch. 13. LINE: Bucs by 3.

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