TAMPA — You would be hard-pressed to find a Bucs player more stung by the team's late-season collapse in 2008 than receiver Antonio Bryant.
Even the four-plus months that have passed since Tampa Bay's elimination from postseason contention haven't eased his pain.
Only one thing will. It's only May, but Bryant already has an eye on January.
"I told ya'll a long time and I'm going to keep saying, I'm a bitter loser," Bryant said. "I'm going to put out, and I want my teammates to feel the same way. … I've had that (taste) a lot of times in this league. I've only been to the playoffs once. Just one game. My mouth is real bitter. It's all about getting in those playoffs. If you get in those playoffs, it's anybody's game."
Squandering multiple chances to squeeze into the postseason only made the frustration grow. The Bucs lost their final four games and were eliminated just weeks after holding a lead in the NFC South.
"Arizona (lost four of five) and they snapped out of it," Bryant said of the NFC champion. "We couldn't do the same. We had so many opportunities. … We still couldn't snap out of it. I hope everybody thinks about that, and it's a little motivation going into the season."
As for Bryant's personal performance in 2009, what should we expect from him after his strong bounce-back campaign last fall? Nothing less, he said.
"I've got a lot to prove," said Bryant, 28. "Last year was for the haters. This year is for the doubters."
Bryant has had his share of both. He played for the Bucs on a veteran-minimum salary last season after spending 2007 out of the NFL. He made a strong statement in his return, providing the Bucs with their most consistent offensive threat with 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns. The Bucs designated him their franchise player, thereby protecting him by severely restricting his ability to move as a free agent and limiting him to a one-year, $9.88 million contract. In the end, he never received the long-term deal he was seeking.
To that end, Bryant is adamant he is not content to rest on his resume.
"I'm on the bubble," he joked. "I'm on a one-year deal."
Racking up as many catches as last season won't be a given considering the Bucs are moving to a new offensive scheme under a new coaching staff and have added offensive weapons such as tight end Kellen Winslow and running back Derrick Ward, who will command touches of their own.
"Nobody cares about what you did last year," he said. " … It may not be about me getting the ball. It may be about some other people getting the ball and opening it up. If that means Antonio's got to run 89 comeback (routes), if 89 comebacks get us in the playoffs and where we want to be, then I'll just run 89 comebacks."