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Big plays missing along with players

For the past two seasons, the Bucs have enjoyed an occasional big play from their offense. Remember Joe Jurevicius' catch and run against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago? Remember Keenan McCardell's four touchdown catches in the final five minutes of close games last season?

Well, neither Jurevicius nor McCardell has been in uniform this season. And big plays have been missing as well.

"I (thought) along the way we're going to have four or five explosive plays per game," coach Jon Gruden said Monday. "I'm talking about 20-yard plays. It's been hard getting first downs, let alone the explosive plays."

For the second straight game, the bulk of the offense came on short runs and short passes. The only big play Sunday was a 35-yard pass from Chris Simms to Charles Lee that put the ball on the Seahawks 6. In two games, the Bucs have three plays of 21 yards or more and one of more than 30.

Last season, McCardell had a catch of 20 yards or longer in 10 of 16 games and three touchdowns of more than 70 yards.

"If you're not getting explosive plays along the way, it's hard to go 75 or 80 yards in 12-play drives," Gruden said. "We made a living doing that for too long around here. We've got to start getting explosive plays to stay up with the times in this league."

General manager Bruce Allensaid the team has not ruled out looking for outside help.

"We're continuing to look and talk to other teams about potential trades," Allen said. "But there are really very few significant trades that happen during the season."

McCARDELL STILL IN LIMBO: After Sunday's loss, Gruden said he hoped contract talks between the team and McCardell would escalate.

But Monday, the mood suggested a 180-degree turn.

"I'm not going to sit here and cry sour grapes," Gruden said. "This is a situation that doesn't appear to have resolved itself and doesn't appear to be resolving. It's too bad."

Gruden said the increased interest in McCardell, who is holding out, will be a product of media interest.

"When you go two games without (an offensive) touchdown, you are missing a Pro Bowl wide receiver, I'm sure there will be some chatter. But there are certain issues that are out of our hands," Gruden said. "This is one of those. We will just have to deal with the commotion or the chatter that is going on internally the best we can."

The team has looked anemic offensively and seems in need of a receiver who had 84 catches for 1,174 yards and eight touchdowns last season. But McCardell, due to earn $2.5-million this year, wants more money, and the Bucs have refused to renegotiate.

"That's not playing realistic football," Gruden said. "You have to play by the rules in the NFL. There is a salary cap. If it were up to me, I would give everybody the money. It's not my money. I would give them all the money to get the best players in here."

Allen said there is no update on negotiations. "He just has to make a decision on whether he wants to play or not," Allen said. "That hasn't changed."

LINEUP SHUFFLE: With the struggles on offense, Gruden said lineup changes are a possibility.

"I can't comment on all of the specific things that we will potentially do, but we will look at any edge that we can create," he said.

"Right now, given the injuries and the situation at wide receiver, some of these guys have been thrust into critical roles. Tim Brown has become our punt returner among other things, but we'll take a good look at it.

"We'll look at the running backs and the tight ends again as a staff throughout the day and try to circulate the roster the best we can with the players we think give us the best chance in Oakland."

PUNTING HELP: While special teams have significantly improved from last season, one glaring weakness continues to be punt returns.

"We have some options," Allen said. "We might sign somebody, for instance."

Joey Galloway was supposed to be the punt returner, but he is out at least four more weeks. Veterans Bill Schroeder and Brown have been ineffective. Through two games, the team is averaging 4.5 yards and has a long of 12.

_ ROGER MILLS, Times staff writer

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