TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneersinsist they’re capable of rebounding from a four-game losing streak to make the playoffs.
The Bucs (4-6) have dropped five of their past six to fall behind New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFC South. However, coach Raheem Morris and his players believe the team is good enough to rally and win the division.
Tampa Bay went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs a year ago. To match that record, it’ll have to win its remaining games, beginning this week at Tennessee.
“We’ve got six more. We’ve got to go out there and knock them off one at a time. … There’s still time to get hot. We can still finish with the same record we had last year if we get our minds right, go out and play hard, fast, physical and smart,” Morris said Monday. “We’ve got to go out there and think that way every single time we go out there.”
Morris reiterated that playing defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay tough in a 35-26 defeat Sunday did not ease the sting of losing. The Buccaneershad their chances, but committed nine penalties, turned over the ball twice and yielded touchdowns after a pair of unsuccessful onside kicks to help the Packers remain unbeaten.
Josh Freeman threw for a career-best 342 yards and two touchdowns, LeGarrette Blount scored on a career-best 54 yard run and finished with 107 rushing, and Kellen Winslow had nine receptions for 132 yards — the first time Tampa Bay had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and 100-yard receiver in the same game since December 2007.
“Losing is losing. No matter how much you compete, no matter how hard you play, if you don’t come out with the win, you still get that sick feeling in your stomach,” Blount said. “No moral victories for us at all. Either we’re going to win or we’re going to lose. … Unfortunately we didn’t come out with a win.”
In addition to traveling to Tennessee on Sunday, the Bucs have road games against Jacksonville, Carolina and Atlanta. They’ll face the Panthers and Dallas at home down the stretch.
Safety Sean Jones said it’s much too early to think about what it’ll take to earn a playoff spot.
“We have to think about one game at a time, and that’s what we’re going to do. At the end of the year we’ll count them up and see where we’re at. Until then, we’re going to keep fighting,” Jones said. “We’ve lost four straight. There’s nowhere to go but up. We’re going to go out there and try to beat a pretty good Tennessee team this week … and get this sour taste out of our mouth.”
The Bucs rallied from a 14-0 deficit against the Packers, twice pulling within two points. Morris ordered the second onside kick of the game after Winslow dropped a 2-point conversion pass that would have made it 28-28 with 4:25 to play.
The Packers recovered the onside kick, and sealed the game three plays later when Aaron Rodgers threw a 40-yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson.
Morris defended the decision to not kick deep.
“When you play a team like that, you’ve got to take chances,” the coach said. “You have to find a way to steal some possessions.”
Despite falling short, Blount feels the Bucs left Lambeau Field with plenty to build on, as well as hope for the remainder of the season. New Orleans leads the division by one game over Atlanta. The Bucs are three games back.
“I know we still have a chance,” Blount said, assessing the prospects of hanging in the race. “We split with the Saints. We beat Atlanta. We definitely still have a chance. We have to beat Carolina. We have to beat Atlanta again. We have to win out. That’s what our plan is.”
Tampa Bay’s slide, which also includes losses to San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans and Houston over the past six weeks, follows a 3-1 start.
Morris said while his young team is far from a finished product, he’s confident there’s enough talent on the roster to make a strong stretch run.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” the coach said. “I said early on our goal is to win the division. We came out hot, hit a little sinkhole right here, and now it’s time to come running out of that thing.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.