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Gramatica sings blues

Anyone who saw him sing with Carlos Santana on Monday Night at the Mic earlier this season might have suspected as much. But it would take more than a few licks with the Latin guitarist to improve his kicks.

Martin Gramatica is out of rhythm.

That's how he explains the worst start of his career, going 6-for-12 in field goals, including a missed 36-yarder that was the difference in the Bucs' 17-14 loss to New Orleans on Sunday.

Perhaps more disturbing is that semi-Automatica is just 2-for-8 from more than 29 yards. And that does not include the blocked extra point that cost the world champions a win over the Panthers in their home opener.

On Wednesday, without the accompaniment of his brother, Bill, or Santana from the Monday Night Football segment, Gramatica was singing his own version of oye como va (listen how it goes) mi ritmo (my rhythm).

"The key is getting into a rhythm, something I haven't been able to feel yet; I haven't been able to feel comfortable," Gramatica said. "It's not due to the blocking, snapping or hold, it's myself. I just haven't been able to hit the ball solid like I've done in the past. That's where it's kind of frustrating because I haven't been able to see anything I'm drastically doing wrong."

Of course, there are misses and there are misses. Three of Gramatica's field goals were blocked, including two against the Panthers. The other was a 62-yarder that he drove too low.

"He's had two 60-yard (attempts), maybe I asked a little much," coach Jon Gruden said. "He missed a 50-yarder against Dallas and he missed a couple that were actually rejected by Shaquille O'Neal; he really didn't have much of a chance.

"Are we stunned that he missed the (field goal) the other day? Yeah. We thought he had a good look at the goal posts. How many times does he miss inside the 40? I don't know. But it's been that kind of first half of the season.

"How many screen passes do you throw out in the flat and there's no one there and you make 1 yard? There's been some crazy things happen. But I'm going to stick by my man. I believe he's the strength of this team and hopefully, before it's all said and done, he'll back me up."

Gruden has several reasons to remain confident in Gramatica. For starters, he needs him Sunday against Carolina. Only one touchdown has been scored by the Bucs or Panthers in two of their past three games.

Second, Gramatica might have been the biggest weapon during the Super Bowl run when he set club records for field goals (32), attempts (39) and points (128).

For his career, Gramatica is an 82.1 percent field goal kicker. So he has never dealt with a slump this bad.

"No, not really, I've never had that bad of a percentage," Gramatica said. "But the thing that I told myself is those kicks are over, whether I made them or missed them, I've just got to start from zero this week and hopefully get on a streak. A lot of it could be mental. Once you hit a couple kicks and your confidence builds up, it makes it a lot easier. It never makes it easy, but it makes it easier than it is now. It's on me because the guys are doing a great job of blocking, snapping and holding. So I just have to kick the ball straight, that's basically all I can tell you about that."

Complicating matters is that he's unable to discover what he is doing wrong by watching film.

"The thing is, with my kicking style, each kick looks different," Gramatica said. "It's not like I do one thing. The biggest thing I need to do is with my plant foot, that's where my consistency comes from. And that's probably what I need to fix. Other than that, all my kicks are different so I can't say I follow through more here than there, because sometimes the kick looks terrible but it goes through."

Gramatica refuses to blame the Bucs' protection problems, but it's unrealistic to believe they haven't had some effect. The Panthers were particularly adept at blocking kicks, triple-teaming the A gap between long snapper Ryan Benjamin and a guard.

"We can't spend much more time preparing for it," Gruden said. "Again, they're going to drive a diesel 18-wheeler through the A gap and we're going to put as much of a physical mass on them as we can."

While Gruden and teammates have been supportive, they also have tried to leave Gramatica alone to fight his way out of the slump.

"Martin has actually been kicking the ball pretty well," said punter Tom Tupa, also the holder. "The one he hit Sunday he hit well, but the wind kind of kept it out too. If there was no wind, it would've been good too."

Perhaps just as distressing is that Gramatica's worst performances have come at Raymond James Stadium. A fan favorite since coming to the Bucs five seasons ago, Gramatica has stared down a few patrons at Raymond James Stadium who cursed at him.

"Fans for the most part have been great," Gramatica said. "I just wish some of those people who do talk trash, I wish they'd come say it to your face. That's the only thing."

He added: "Right now, I'm feeling bad because I've let the team down and a lot of the games we've lost, three points would've made a big difference or even the extra point. That's extra tough. But like I said, I have to block everything out and start from zero. Because if I let that bother me, which it can, then it's going to drag on the rest of the year. So I just have to put a stop to it and start over. Basically, it's the best thing I can do."

Not so Automatica anymore

Here's a look at Martin Gramatica's career kicking numbers with the Bucs.

Year FGs Pct. PATs Pct.

1999 27-32 84% 25-25 100%

2000 28-34 82% 42-42 100%

2001 23-29 79% 28-28 100%

2002 32-39 82% 32-32 100%

2003 6-12 50% 20-21 95%