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Tampa Bay Bucs must figure out how to beat good teams on the road

Will Allen hits the ground as the Panthers recover a fourth-quarter onside kick, virtually snuffing the Bucs’ last hope.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Will Allen hits the ground as the Panthers recover a fourth-quarter onside kick, virtually snuffing the Bucs’ last hope.

TAMPA

Quit the worrying, and stop the bellyaching. Even after the Monday night embarrassment, there is still plenty of time remaining in the Buccaneers' season. At least another four days, by my count.

The Bucs have about that much time to figure out how to be a better team on the road. Because in four days they head to Atlanta for the last road game of the regular season, and their last chance to gain ground in playoff tiebreakers.

As of today, Tampa Bay is the No. 5 seed in the NFC, which would mean a first-round playoff game in Arizona. And, based on the Bucs' road performances this fall, that would probably mean another one-and-done postseason.

The difference between home and road really is that stark for the Buccaneers. At Raymond James, this is a very good team. Maybe even a great team. On the road, this is a mediocre team. Perhaps even a poor one.

Not that any of this is a great shock. Most teams perform better at home than on the road. The winning percentage for home teams in the NFL this season is .560, which means road teams have a .440 winning percentage.

But in Tampa Bay, the differences are even more pronounced. The Bucs have a 1.000 winning percentage at home and a .429 percentage on the road. The Saints are the only team with a greater disparity between home and road.

"Pretty good point, I would say. You could say we didn't play up to our standards," coach Jon Gruden said. "We have played well at home. Had some good games on the road, been in position to win a couple of those games that we didn't.

"The road is a lonely place. A lonely place. Not a lot of people rooting for you. It's tough. We need to play better. We need to play better on the road."

The trouble appears to be greater on the defensive side. The offense's numbers are slightly better at home than on the road, but the difference in defense is nearly inexplicable.

At home, the Bucs have held opponents to 12.66 points and 235.83 yards per game. On the road, opponents have scored 23.14 points and gained 343.28 yards against Tampa Bay. The Bucs even force more turnovers at home, getting 2.66 per game at Raymond James and 1.42 in other stadiums.

On a young defense, those kind of discrepancies might be easier to explain. But the Bucs have too many seasoned hands on that side of the ball to use lack of experience as an excuse.

Maybe some of it is artificial turf. Maybe some of it is unfamiliar weather. Maybe some of it is players enjoying themselves a little too much when they're away from home the night before a game.

Whatever the reasons, the Bucs had better figure out a solution quickly because their season could be heading toward a downhill slide if they do not win Sunday in Atlanta.

A victory there means they would still have a chance at catching Carolina in the NFC South, and possibly getting a first-round bye and a home game in the divisional round. A loss means the Bucs would almost certainly have to go through three road playoff games if they have any hope of being the first team to play at home in the Super Bowl.

Cutting through everything else, this is the bottom line:

Once the playoffs begin, the Detroits, Kansas Citys and Seattles of the world will be wiped off the NFL map. There will be no gimme games remaining on the schedule.

So, for our purposes, let's just look at how the Bucs did against teams currently sporting winning records this season. At home, they went a nifty 4-0 against playoff contenders. On the road, they were 1-4. And the only victory was an overtime game against the Bears in the third week of the season.

In other words, the Bucs have a solid chance of reaching the NFC Championship Game if they can begin the playoffs at home.

In the 32-year history of the franchise, the Bucs have played seven playoff games in hostile environments. They have won just one, and that was in the Super Bowl season of 2002.

That suggests it takes a special team to go into an opponent's stadium in January and come away with a victory, and this Bucs team has not yet proven it can be that special.

They have four more days to work on it.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Dramatic difference

Perfect at home, the Bucs have been mediocre at best on the road, with their defensive performance the biggest factor:

HomeAway

Win percentage1.000.429

PPG allowed12.6623.14

YPG allowed235.83343.28

Forced turnovers2.661.42

Check it out

John Romano discusses the Bucs' defensive woes against the Panthers, Antonio Bryant's breakout performance and Cadillac Williams' comeback in an audio slide show at bucs.tampabay.com.

Earning his snaps

Receiver Antonio Bryant is playing so well, Joey Galloway can't get on the field. 3C

Tampa Bay Bucs must figure out how to beat good teams on the road 12/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 2:32pm]

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