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Bucs take long look at their short game

Here's why the Bucs' offense no longer is explosive: It can't throw the bomb.

The philosophy is one opponents will continue to take in the second half of the season.

Dare Trent Dilfer to beat you with his arm and fans eventually will call for his head.

Although he clearly has the support of teammates and coaches, Dilfer took his share of responsibility Monday for the Bucs' three-game losing streak.

Dilfer said he understands the perception Tampa Bay will go only as far as his play allows.

"I understand it's going to be said. To a certain degree, it has its legitimacy," Dilfer said. "But I don't think that's going to be a statement that's going to be said for very much longer."

A month ago, Dilfer was coming off perhaps the best game of his career, having thrown four TD passes in a 31-21 win over Miami. The Bucs were 4-0, and he had thrown eight TDs and two interceptions on his way to a league-best 105.9 quarterback rating.

But over the past four games, Dilfer's rating has been 69.7, and he has thrown four TDs and four INTs. The Bucs have averaged 12.5 points and 264.25 total yards, worse than last year's 269.8 yards per game.

The criticism continued to pile on Dilfer on Monday, and he was prepared.

"People can write and say whatever they want," Dilfer said. "Some of it may be true, some of it isn't true. It all comes back to, as long as the people in that locker room know what's going on, that's what's important to me. Never have I felt more so that they do. That's where I find comfort."

Coach Tony Dungy expects to see more of the same defensive schemes the second half of the season, beginning with Sunday's game at Indianapolis.

"You've got to throw the ball and make people pay when they play those fronts," Dungy said. "Not necessarily throw it a lot, but when you get your chances to hit the shots, you've got to hit them.

"We had one drive where we did. We hit two first-down passes for about 70 yards, and we were able to score on that drive. So that's what we need to do. We still have to run the ball, we still have to break tackles and block things better. But we've got to hit some big passes."

Linebacker Jeff Brady said the Vikings' defense entered the game vowing to take away the run and gambling Dilfer would not beat them with deep passes.

"We took away the hitches and the check downs," Brady said. "We made them run the ball, and we stopped them on the runs. They had nothing but deep bombs that they could throw up on us. We kind of took everything away from them."

One series particularly irked Dilfer.

After scoring to cut the Vikings' lead to 10-6, the Bucs benefited from a 15-yard penalty and took over at the Vikings 44.

But the Bucs went three-and-out, gaining only 1 yard, on Warrick Dunn's first-down run.

When the Bucs got the ball back, they had 89 yards to travel for a touchdown with one timeout and 2:26 left. Dilfer replayed the series.

"We run probably our best running play on first down. But a little (blocking) detail (on) the back side of the play, and instead of being to the safeties, it's (1) yard. Actually second down, Reidel (Anthony) is running wide open, and it's either going to be a 30-yard gain or a touchdown. But because I get some pressure, I have to step up really hard, and the timing is off so I can't find him, and I take the shot down the field. Even then, it's 6 inches away. Corey Fuller makes the play that we need to make. Now you've got third and 8, and they fall into the screen. We don't execute perfectly, it allows this guy to fall into it, and there's no throwing lane to Warrick."

Dilfer was as agitated as he ever has been after the loss, calling the offense pathetic.

"I was as perturbed as I think I've been in quite a while, because I really felt going into the game that if we didn't turn the ball over, if we just did the basics, we'd beat that team," Dilfer said. "I never thought it's be pretty.

"I felt, yes, that teams would try to take away certain things, get aggressive, things like that. But the tough part was, I thought we had the ability to make so many big plays in the course of a game offensively that we'll defeat that theory. That eventually, we'll hit a phase that everybody will do that to us, but we'll make so many plays, they're going to have to go back to playing normal."