TAMPA — Jon Gruden's approach Wednesday to addressing his team about its 38-23 loss at Carolina was simple:
That's what the Giants did last season after they were thrashed 41-17 by the Vikings in Week 12. It didn't stop them from winning seven of their last nine games, including Super Bowl XLII.
"I'm a big believer in analogies. I can't get up here and put up acetates and tell stories. But I do remember Minnesota going into New York and winning a convincing 41-17 game," Gruden said. "You would've thought all hell was going to break loose in New York after a couple days following that game. And I just think you've got to have a short-term memory. You've got to really live in the future. You're never as good as you think you are, and you're never as bad as you think you are, no matter what anybody thinks.
"We're 9-4. We've played a lot of guys, and we've played hard. We've got a lot of character and believe in what we're doing. You're not going to get any sympathy cards from the media, the Falcons or anybody else. Just get back there, put your helmet on and let's go play."
But some things are easier to forget than others. Tampa Bay allowed Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams (19 carries for 186 yards) and Jonathan Stewart (15 for 115) to combine for 301 yards rushing and four touchdowns Monday night.
For the NFL's fourth-ranked defense, it was humbling. The Bucs were manhandled by the Panthers offensive line. They missed tackles. They lost containment of their gaps. And on occasion, they were knocked silly.
On one play, 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver Steve Smith decleated Bucs defensive end Greg White, who did a somersault. "He got me," White said. "It was a clean shot. I have a couple words for him, though."
Receiver Muhsin Muhammad also had a devastating crack-back block on safety Sabby Piscitelli. "I was in the box, I was playing the run and he cracked me from the side, and there was not much you could do about it," Piscitelli said. "I told him it was a real good hit. I didn't see him. There was nothing I could do about it."
Even the Bucs' all-time tackles leader, Derrick Brooks, said he was guilty of trying to do too much. "The times I missed the tackle, I was trying to take the guy's head off when I should just bring him down," he said. "That's more of the mode of just trusting the system, do my job and get some hands on him and trust the guys coming to clean him up.
"The most important thing is that we move on and bury it."
It won't be any easier for the Bucs on Sunday. The Falcons have the NFL's second-leading rusher in Michael Turner with 1,269 yards.
"Going to Atlanta, it's a big challenge," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "Last time I looked, they're pretty good, too. They've got two pretty good backs, and they've also got a quarterback (Matt Ryan) who's pretty dang good. It's not the same team we played the first time" when the Bucs won their home opener, 24-9, on Sept. 14.
Kiffin took the same approach as Gruden on Tuesday when addressing his defense. "I told them: 'You know what? I didn't just become a bad coach. Last Sunday, I was a pretty good coach against the Saints. And you didn't become bad players.' I said: 'Nobody is throwing anybody under the bus. We're all together in this deal.' And stuff happens like that."
The Bucs have their own recent examples. In 2002, they laid an egg on Monday Night Football against the Steelers, losing 17-7 in Week 16. They did not lose another game, including Super Bowl XXXVII. In 1999, Gruden's Raiders blasted the Bucs 45-0 in Week 15 and Tampa Bay did not lose again until the NFC Championship Game.
"There's a lot of good football teams — the New York Giants, the Atlanta Falcons, the Dallas Cowboys, the Jets — that are coming off tough losses," Gruden said. "This is about mental toughness, I think, too. You've got to continue doing what you're doing and believe in yourselves. I think we have the character in our locker room that will allow us to do that. Hopefully, we get some guys well. We're going to need all our horses for this game."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.