TAMPA — The Bucs are 3-1 and half a game out of first place in the NFC South heading into a division showdown with the Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
But even that won't bring a sellout crowd.
A team spokesman confirmed Monday that the Bucs expect to fall short of a sellout against New Orleans and, most likely, for the five home games after that. That means local television blackouts are virtually certain the rest of the way. The club's previous two home games in the regular season and both preseason home contests were blacked out.
NFL broadcast rules require that games be sold out at least 72 hours before kickoff or the telecast cannot be shown within a 75-mile radius of the stadium.
It was thought that the Bucs' recent success, plus a matchup against the Super Bowl champion Saints, might spark ticket sales. But the Bucs' season-ticket base (believed to be 40,000 to 50,000) makes it difficult to sell enough individual tickets to sell out the 65,000-seat stadium.
DEFENDING THE D: The Bucs escaped with a win Sunday, remarkable when one considers the defense's inability to rush passers or stop the run.
The Bucs, for the third time in four games, did not record a sack at Cincinnati. And for the second straight game, the Bucs allowed a strong individual rushing effort, as Bengals RB Cedric Benson gained 144 yards.
Coach Raheem Morris said the team's decision to play mostly a deep zone defense led to the results in the pass rush and run defense.
"If you go play Terrell Owens and you go play (Chad) Ochocino, you better have a plan," he said. "So we played a little bit more Cover 2 (Sunday). Obviously it was more conventional Cover 2."
Morris admitted players missed tackles on Benson, who made several Bucs miss and broke away from others.
In the pass rush, Tampa Bay's decision to play a soft zone paid dividends as Bengals QB Carson Palmer made some ill-advised passes into heavily defended areas. At times, the Bucs used a dime package that had six defensive backs and as few as two down linemen.
But even with Palmer attempting 36 passes and Morris calling for the occasional blitz, Palmer was not sacked. Each of the Bucs' four sacks came against Carolina in Week 2. Morris said the pass rush is improving but needs work.
"You saw the pressure, but it didn't get the result you want," Morris said. "So, you're not going to give them a high grade, but you give them a better grade. The fact that they're going out there and getting better every week is what we have to look forward to. We have to get more urgency out of our play up front. They'll get better."
POSSIBLE CHANGES: Morris said he was pleased with some aspects of special teams, specifically coverage of kicks and punts. But the Bucs haven't had explosive results in their return game, considered a strength.
As Micheal Spurlock's role as a receiver has grown, his production as a returner is something the team is monitoring.
"We can get a better spark there from Spurlock," Morris said. "He's been making some big-time plays for us on offense. It's probably taking away from his special teams game a little bit. But we also have some guys we can (activate) and help us out there."
Morris listed WRs Sammie Stroughter and Preston Parker and RB Kareem Huggins as possibilities if a change is made.
RIGHT ON PACE: The Bucs are on pace for 36 interceptions with nine after four games. The club record is 32, set in 1981.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.