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Bucs examine shortcomings after lopsided loss to Saints

TAMPA, Fla. -- A handful of players milled around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room, none of them eager to talk about the team's second lopsided loss in three games.

The Bucs were dealt another heavy dose of reality by the New Orleans Saints, answering any lingering questions about where a young, rebuilding team stands five games into this season.

"The beauty of the NFL," second-year Bucs coach Raheem Morris said later Monday, reflecting on a 31-6 loss to the Super Bowl champions in a game not nearly as close as the final score. "We'll get another chance to go out there Sunday."

Tampa Bay (3-2) has beaten Cleveland, Carolina and Cincinnati to match its win total for last season. Still, losses to the Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers by a combined score of 69-19 serve as a painful reminder that there's still a huge gap between the Bucs and some of the league's better teams.

Leading rusher Cadillac Williams is averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Even worse, a defense that allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL last season has shown little improvement, slipping to 31st among 32 teams after giving up 213 yards on the ground to an offense that played without Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.

Chris Ivory, a little-known undrafted free agent out of Division II Tiffin, averaged 10.5 yards per carry on his way to gaining 158 yards on 15 attempts. The Saints entered the game ranked next to last in rushing, wondering what it would take to get something going in support of quarterback Drew Brees.

Ivory, Julius Jones and Ladell Betts were so effective Sunday that New Orleans, which scored on its first three possessions to build a 17-0 lead, only punted once.

"Once a team gets up like that, they just try to run you out of the stadium. And that's what they did," Bucs defensive end Tim Crowder said. "That's a good football team, but my expectations are higher for us."

The Bucs used their first two picks in this year's draft on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, hoping to bolster the pass rush as well as get stronger against the run.

Although Morris maintains he's encouraged by the progress of the rookies, the team so far has little show for it with a league-low four sacks and opponents averaging 157 rushing yards per game.

"We're not getting great pressure. We're not doing a good job of shedding tackles, getting off blocks and making plays on the quarterback. That's the thing that's a little bit frustrating for my guys up front right now," Morris said, adding that the defensive shortcomings can't solely be blamed on youth and inexperience.

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"We've just got to grow up faster," the coach said. "We've got to get better. We've got to play better."

McCoy, the third overall pick in the draft, said after Sunday's game that he accepts responsibility for the way the defense has performed against the run lately.

The Steelers rushed for 201 yards in handing the Bucs their first loss of the season. Two weeks ago, Cincinnati gained 149 yards on the ground before throwing two interceptions in the final three minutes to help Tampa Bay score 10 points to pull out a 24-21 victory over the Bengals.

"I know I'm young and I'm a rookie, but I'm one of those guys who puts it all on my back. 'Well, the defense isn't playing well. It's all my fault.' That's just how I feel," McCoy said. "We play as a whole defense, but the better I play, the better the defense is."

The absence of a running game is a concern, too.

New Orleans limited Tampa Bay to 42 rushing yards on 18 attempts. Williams gained 18 yards on 10 carries, an average of just 1.8 yards per try.

The solution isn't as simple as benching Williams.

Backup Kareem Huggins was lost for the season to a knee injury against the Saints. The other running backs on the Bucs' roster -- undrafted rookies LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin -- weren't in training camp with Tampa Bay and are still learning the offense, particularly pass-protection responsibilities.

"I'm confident in those two young men. I'm excited that we got them. You never know what's going to happen in this league," Morris said.

"But the thing that gets lost with Cadillac is how well he plays on third down, how well he's been out there protecting our quarterback. Our quarterback doesn't get hit. That's phenomenal."

Freeman has been sacked nine times in five games, but the Saints weren't successful getting to him even though they blitzed frequently.

Until someone proves can handle the same duties, Williams likely will remain in the lineup. Morris scoffed at the suggestion that maybe he's being too loyal to the sixth-year pro who has overcome two career-threatening knee injuries.

"There's no doubt, Cadillac is an emotional leader on our football team. He goes out there and he does a lot of great things as far as what we ask him to do," Morris said.

"But I don't want to say loyalty clouds your judgment because its not that," the coach added. "It's you know what he's going to give you. You know what he's going to bring to you. You know he's going to protect your quarterback. It's more about protecting No. 5 than anything else."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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