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Buccaneers not discouraged by two-game losing streak

TAMPA, Fla. -- Jon Gruden is tired of talking about the past two weeks.

The Tampa Bay coach reiterated Monday that he likes his team's chances of being successful in the playoffs, even though the Buccaneers will take a two-game losing streak into their first-round matchup against the New York Giants.

The Bucs won the NFC South with two weeks remaining, then approached games against San Franciso and Carolina much like preseason exhibitions.

"There are 20 teams that finished it off (Sunday) and we're down to 12 today. If that doesn't get you excited, you're in the wrong profession," Gruden said Monday.

"We are in a single-elimination tournament. We've all seen Villanova. We all remember Rollie Massimino. The underdogs do flourish sometimes. I'm sure we'll be a heavy underdog in this tournament, but we'll see what we get."

Rather than risk injury to key players, Gruden rested most of his starters in losses to the 49ers and Panthers.

Although several teams took the same approach to finales, Gruden faced questions about momentum and whether he might have hurt his team by holding regulars out of two games rather than one.

Following Sunday's 31-23 loss to the Panthers, he said he had no regrets about the way he handled the situation.

"When you run out of the tunnel and you have 80,000 fans going crazy, you're going to have momentum," Gruden said.

"Momentum is having your quarterback healthy and walking around and feeling good," he added. "That has a lot to do with momentum. To see (receiver Joey) Galloway run as fast as he can run, that is what I see as momentum."

Galloway (shoulder) and Ike Hilliard (knee) were among the regulars who welcomed the opportunity to allow injuries to heal. Other players noted the potential benefit of seldom-used backups gaining valuable experience.

"This was important to the guys that were playing. It was important to the guys that didn't play as much," linebacker Derrick Brooks said, noting some of the reserves may be called on to contribute in the playoffs.

"I'm not a believer in just doing something just to get by," Brooks added. "You set yourself up for failure that way."

Tampa Bay has lost three of its past four, however Gruden is confident the team is capable of making a run if it remains healthy.

"I'll just say we have a defense that statistically ... did pretty good. I don't know where they all ended up, but it was pretty good," Gruden said of the unit, which ranked second in fewest yards allowed.

The coach added there's plenty to like about the offense, too.

Jeff Garcia was one of the most efficient passers in the league, Galloway had 1,000 yards receiving for the third straight season, and Earnest Graham has been an effective runner filling in for injured tailback Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.

Punter Josh Bidwell has had a outstanding year, and kicker Matt Bryant is 28-for-33 on field goals.

"So I think we're pretty darn good. I'm just concerned about the injuries," Gruden said. "I know everybody in the playoffs is humming. We're anxious to play. We think we've got a pretty good football team."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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