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Bucs Search for Answers for Losses

October 21, 2000

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Keyshawn Johnson looked and felt like he had been pummeled in a boxing match, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ hopes of repeating as champions in the NFC Central took an even worse beating.

Thursday night’s 28-14 loss to the Detroit Lions was the fourth straight for the struggling Bucs, whose season of high expectations is evolving into one of bitter disappointment following a 3-0 start.

Johnson’s face was bruised, the result of the pounding he took from the Lions’ secondary, including a third-quarter hit by Corwin Brown that knocked Johnson’s helmet off and left the receiver sprawled on the field face down.

``I feel like I was in a Tyson fight, but I’ll be all right,″ said Johnson, who left the game for the final play of a series but returned on the Bucs’ next possession and finished with six receptions for 79 yards.

He and his teammates wish they could say as much about their chances of successfully defending their first division title in 18 years. Right now, they’d settle for winning a game after going five weeks _ four games and last Sunday’s bye _ without a victory.

``I think for the first time in my life I can’t even put into words what this team is feeling like right now,″ defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. ``But I think we’ll be all right. We’ve been here before.″

The latest loss dropped the Bucs to 3-4 _ the same record they had at this point a year ago. The team responded then by winning of its last nine regular-season games, and coach Tony Dungy said this team is capable of the same if it eliminates the uncharacteristic breakdowns that have undermined Tampa Bay’s chances of winning the past month.

After turning the ball over once during their three victories, the Bucs have lost seven fumbles and thrown six interceptions during their longest losing streak since starting 0-5 in Dungy’s first season in 1996.

``I don’t think it’s time to forfeit and cancel the rest of the season, but obviously we can’t continue to go this way and have a successful year,″ Dungy said, adding that playing better _ not simply believing the season can be salvaged _ will be the key to pulling out of the tailspin.

``Every year is a different year. Every team’s a different team. The guys who are here have to get it done now. We can’t say that we did it in the past. We can’t say everything is going to be OK. Because if we don’t get things changed around, it won’t be OK. What we’ve got to draw on is that we can play well when we’re doing things right. Somehow, we’ve got to re-establish that.″

The Lions rushed for 170 yards and forced four turnovers Thursday night. And for the fourth straight week the Bucs lost a close game, in part because of lapses by an overworked defense that has spent too much time on the field because the offense has done a poor job of moving the ball in the fourth quarter.

After averaging 31 points during the 3-0 start, Tampa Bay has scored just under 18 per game the past four games. Nevertheless, Dungy said it’s the defense’s job to stop the opposing team when games are on the line.

``I guess there are a lot of theories and maybe a lot of excuses you could have,″ the coach said.

``I don’t know if we started out the year with those three wins and had the mentality that games weren’t going to be close ... That’s probably the most disappointing thing to me. That used to be our hallmark and winning those games. We’ve gotten them the last four weeks and haven’t been able to finish people off. Somehow, we’ve got to get that back.″

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