TAMPA — The one constant for the Bucs offense this season has been change. The unit ran off the Falcons with its ground game two weeks ago, then passed by the Bears last week with an impressive aerial assault.
In short, adaptability has become the name of the game.
"Basically it's because everybody has the ability to make that happen," wide receiver Michael Clayton said. "I think we're a force because we're able to go in either direction."
The past two games — victories following an opening loss to New Orleans — have illustrated how coach Jon Gruden's offense can adjust to defensive circumstances and tap into the strengths needed to exploit the situation at hand.
"We have a tremendous running game, and teams will do everything they can to stop us," Clayton said. "And we've got (quarterback) Brian Griese, who knows the offense and can put us in the right place. It's pretty easy to get the looks we want in the passing game. Sometimes it's short and quick, which is as good as a run. And sometimes it's down the field."
In their 24-9 victory over the Falcons, the Bucs relied heavily on Earnest Graham (15 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown) and Warrick Dunn (12 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown).
But when the Bears shut down the run Sunday at Soldier Field, Griese and the receiving corps rose to the occasion. The veteran quarterback's final passing numbers — 38-for-67 (the most attempts by a Buc and three shy of the NFL record) for 407 yards and two touchdowns — told the story of the offense's knack for shifting gears in the 27-24 overtime win.
How important is striking a balance between the pass and run?
"Balance is important, but we have to really go after what the defense presents," center Jeff Faine said. "And it's something that we're going to have to be able to change if a defense takes away the pass and we'll have to depend on the run. That's a good quality of our offense. We have the ability to adapt to the situation, and that's what we're going to have to do."
To Faine, a fundamental factor is at play: "It's the preparation that we do. Not even just leading up to the week of the game; it's being prepared for each look and being prepared for many different looks. It's the work we do in minicamps and the offseason. All teams do (work), but here in Tampa we take a certain pride from the neck up, as Coach calls it, in being smart and being able to adapt to situations on the field."
Gruden says it's a product of having the right personnel for the jobs.
"Our offensive line is playing well. We've got some … very creative players at the running back position, Earnest and Warrick. (Receiver) Antonio Bryant has come in here and helped us. … He's a good football player," Gruden said.
"(Tight end) Jerramy Stevens has given us some things we can do. And Brian Griese is a good quarterback, and he's played really well here for us. They can say what they want, but films prove it, and it's a fact. He's helped us."
Bryant, who missed last season on suspension, had a breakout game in Chicago, catching 10 passes for 138 yards and helping to fuel the Bucs' fourth-quarter comeback to send the game into overtime. Stevens, coming off a two-game suspension, played a key role as well, catching five passes for 61 yards and the tying touchdown with seven seconds left in regulation.
Veteran wideout Ike Hilliard sees nothing new about the offense's versatility.
"People have not really given us a whole lot of credit offensively the last couple of years," he said. "I just think that each week we have a game plan and try to execute to the best of our abilities."