TAMPA — Coach Jon Gruden came away impressed with the Bucs running game Sunday, specifically RB Earnest Graham, saying "we have to give it to him more."
Graham rushed for 91 yards on 10 carries (including a long of 46) in the 24-20 loss to the Saints, and, combined with Warrick Dunn, the Bucs averaged 7.6 yards per carry.
"I thought we ran the ball extremely well," Gruden said. "Unfortunately, we had two holding calls and a 15-yard personal foul, which put us way behind in the down and distance. It kind of took us out of a 'run-it' mentality."
Although Gruden praised the offensive line for "pretty good" pass protection (noting on one sack that Jeff Garcia held the ball too long), what the group did best was run blocking.
"As an offensive lineman, you love to run the ball, especially with a guy behind you like Graham," C Jeff Faine said. "He's a special, special running back — he makes a lot out of nothing sometimes."
Long time coming: CB Phillip Buchanon has said he wants to make more "splash plays" this season, turning turnovers into touchdowns like he did in his days at Miami. Buchanon's 26-yard score on a interception return in the first quarter Sunday was the fifth of his career but first since 2004.
"It felt normal," Buchanon said with a grin. "It definitely felt like I belonged (in the end zone). After me missing the 2005, '06 and '07 years without scoring a touchdown, it just didn't really feel right because I'm so used to scoring."
Pressure: Although Gruden said the Bucs had "some good pressures" in their pass rush — including one sack by DE Greg White — he admitted they'll have to get more out of their four-man rush, especially against the Falcons, who racked up 474 yards against the Lions.
But what struck the Bucs was Atlanta's running game, which included Michael Turner's franchise-record 220 yards (and Jerious Norwood's 93).
"We'll have to tackle extremely well this week," Gruden said.
Stepping in: Gruden praised rookie lineman Jeremy Zuttah, and so did Faine, who said, "from a composure standpoint, I thought (Zuttah) did well. He wasn't wide-eyed or anything."
Action Jackson: Second-round pick Dexter Jackson got better at kick returns as the game wore on after being a little tentative at first, Gruden said. The Bucs subbed Ike Hilliard in for Jackson at times, but Gruden said he's confident the rookie has the makeup for the return spot.
"There's decisionmaking that goes on there and there's also, as you say, deep down you've got to have a lot of guts," Gruden said. "And I think he's got that. He's disciplined, he's been able to take care of the football, and I believe he'll get better and better."
Odd men out: The reason Michael Clayton was inactive Sunday wasn't a medical issue, Gruden said, even though a chest bruise limited the wide receiver last week.
Gruden said Clayton and running back Michael Bennett were victims of the "numbers game," with the Bucs choosing to go with Jackson and Maurice Stovall for their contributions to special teams. Stovall is questionable for Sunday's home opener with a neck strain, which may open up a spot for Clayton. "We'll see Clayton hopefully this week," Gruden said.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.