Difficult days

Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

TAMPA — There were flashes of a potent, creative offense: no huddles; reverses to speedy rookie wide receiver Maurice Stovall; a Tim Rattay bootleg for a first down.

And then there were total breakdowns: a Dave Moore fumble deep in Seattle territory; fullback Mike Alstott had minus-2 yards rushing in the first half; a defense that got pushed around and gave up 28 first downs.

If any one game epitomized Tampa Bay's 2006 season, it was its 23-7 loss to Seattle on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

"Something needs to change," said Buccaneers' safety Jermaine Phillips, who played with a cracked bone in his right hand. "We were up, we were down. If the defense was good, the offense struggled. If the offense was moving the ball, the defense couldn't make a stop.

"We're going to have to find some resolution to the problem."

The Bucs will get either the third or fourth pick in the first round of the draft April 28-29, depending on the strength of schedule tiebreaker with Cleveland. But draft position won't soften the scrutiny that now falls on Bucs' general manager Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden for a season that, at times, looked worse than their 4-12 record.

"Obviously it's a very difficult time for me and our coaches and our fans, and at the same time we will huddle; we will regroup and we will come up with answers to your questions," Gruden said.

"Clearly, we have some things to address."

Tampa Bay was 1-for-3 in the red zone against the playoff-bound Seahawks (9-7). Wide receiver Joey Galloway caught a 4-yard pass from quarterback Tim Rattay for a touchdown shortly after the second quarter began.

But a crucial Bucs' drive, set up by a Shaun Alexander fumble deep in Tampa Bay territory, stalled at the 14-yard line when Moore caught a short pass from Rattay and fumbled it away to Seattle's Michael Boulware, who ran it back for 32 yards.

The Seahawks' lead at the time was 10-7.

Tampa Bay's only other trip to the red zone came early in the fourth quarter on a drive that answered a Seattle 23-yard field goal to give it the 23-7 lead. The Bucs drove to the 3-yard line but gave the ball up on downs.

"It was just a frustrating game overall, a frustrating year," said Alstott, who carried the ball six times for 4 yards and a fumble. "I wish we would have ended it, obviously, a little bit better, like we did in the last two weeks, and it just didn't happen."

Sunday may have been the last time the crowd of 65,660 will see Alstott in a Bucs' uniform. The 33-year-old fan favorite is among a handful of Bucs who may not be around next season. Rattay, who completed 16-of-27 passes for 185 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, is another. He becomes a free agent.

"Well, you know free agency, you have to have people want you," said Rattay, who made his second start as a Buc against Seattle. "I enjoyed playing with these guys, and I enjoyed the games that I had with these guys."

Many on the Bucs' defense know their unit will get torn apart, too.

The Seahawks had to settle for field goals on three of their scoring drives, but were able to sustain two touchdown-scoring drives. The last one, a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to wide receiver D.J. Hackett, came after the Bucs couldn't stop the Seahawks on a third and 18 at Tampa Bay's 32-yard line.

The touchdown gave Seattle a 17-7 lead going into halftime.

"Without a doubt this game sums up our season," linebacker Ryan Nece said. "We just didn't play a complete game."

Seattle scored its first touchdown on an Alexander 1-yard run. The drive included five first downs on 10 plays.

"We struggled defensively (Sunday)," Gruden said. "I don't think you give up (28) first downs and say that everything was on all cylinders."

Which is why changes are coming.

"That's the nature of the business," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "You go into every offseason trying to get better. Whatever that entails, you live with. It's part of this game.

"The personnel decision-makers get paid to make personnel decisions. I get paid to play with their personnel decisions. I will live with that and try to find a way to make this team better."

The Bucs did get a glimpse of their future. Rookie linemen Jeremy Trueblood and Davin Joseph helped to give up just one sack Sunday.

And Stovall proved he can run as well as catch: He had two carries for 29 yards, including a long of 18 yards.

"We have a lot of gray areas we need to address," Stovall said. "But this team never fell apart. We never finger-pointed. We stuck together. I learned from that, and it's something positive I can take away from a season like this."

There's always something to learn, Barber said.

"You learn from the winning seasons as much as you learn from the losing seasons. You find out about yourself and your players and teammates, and your coaches," Barber said.

"In the long run, it doesn't seem like it now, but this will be good for us. We'll find a way to make good out of this and see how we can turn it around."

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