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Defending champ fails to win division game

There are few divisions as competitive as the NFC South, but the competition has been a little less heated this season.

That's because the Bucs, who never finished worse than 2-4 during the first four seasons of the NFC South, finished 0-6 in 2006.

It marks the first time since 1977, the Bucs' first season in the former NFC Central and second overall, Tampa Bay finished winless in division play.

A season after finishing 5-1 in the division, the failure to win even one game was hard to swallow.

"It's very frustrating," running back Michael Pittman said. "We compete, but we don't compete good enough. To be swept in the NFC South after being champions ... it's embarrassing. I believe we're a much better team than we've put out.

"I saw a lot of fans leaving early (Sunday), and I really can't blame them. They're frustrated just like I'm frustrated. As a team, we're just not getting it done."

The Bucs, Browns (0-5 in the AFC North), Raiders (0-5 in the AFC West) and Lions (0-4 in the NFC North) are the league's only winless teams in division play. All except the Bucs have division games left.

"Each time you play a division opponent, it's a rivalry game and you expect to put your best foot forward," Bucs cornerback Juran Bolden said. "I don't even want to look at the record in the division right now."

REUNION DAY: More than 100 former Bucs participated in a halftime ceremony honoring the team's past. Among the notables: Lee Roy Selmon, Richard Wood, Mark Carrier and Brad Culpepper.

Selmon, Tony Mayberry and Hardy Nickerson served as honorary captains for the coin toss.

SURPRISE CALL: Faced with third and goal from the 5 early in the second quarter, coach Jon Gruden called for a draw by Pittman, who was stopped for no gain by linebacker Keith Brooking. Matt Bryant's 24-yard field goal made it 6-0.

"We were in four-down territory," Gruden said. "We've had a real hard time inside the 5-yard line against the zone (defense). So we had a play we thought could get us close to the goal line, certainly, if not score.

"It wasn't designed to get half a yard. It was designed to make the Falcons think pass, which we thought they would, and get us close to the goal line. Hopefully, we'd score or go for it on fourth down. That's a call we liked coming into the game."

The Falcons said they got a spark from the stop.

"Ten-0 doesn't look good. (But) 6-0 gives you a chance to make one play and be back in the game," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "And that's what happened."

MORE ALSTOTT?: Asked if fullback Mike Alstott should have gotten the ball more often after a 17-yard carry on the first play of the second quarter, Gruden made an argument for more Cadillac Williams, who fumbled for the second straight game.

"The guy we're featuring right now is Carnell Williams," Gruden said. "Mike has accepted his role."

Alstott's previous carry, in the first quarter, went for 3 yards. The 17-yarder put him over 5,000 for his 11-year career at 5,002.

PITTMAN THE RECEIVER: Pittman led the Bucs in receiving with seven catches for 73 yards, but it wasn't by accident.

"Those plays had been working all year long," he said. "(Gruden) just gave me an opportunity to make plays."

Pittman had been quietly pushing for more chances this season, in which he has only 20 carries (for 81 yards) and 36 catches (for 318 yards).

"It's been really frustrating all year long," he said. "I haven't been carrying the ball (as often) as I want to, not catching the ball that much out of the backfield. But (Sunday), Coach just called my number a lot more."

BUCHANON'S BIG DAY: Cornerback Phillip Buchanon, signed in October, made his first interception since 2004 while with the Raiders. Buchanon started at left cornerback, splitting reps with Bolden, who has a sore quadriceps.

"You can't make plays when you're on the sideline," said Buchanon, whose interception in the end zone came in the second quarter.

"I'm thankful for the chance."


0 for the division

2006 marks only the third time the Bucs have failed to win a division game. The year, division, games played and combined scores:

Yr. Division Gm. Scores

'76 AFC West 4 148-48

'77 NFC Central 4 48-10

'06 NFC South 6 136-78