Bucs' four-fold mission

Tuesday, December 23, 2003 at 1:00am

1. Get out of the funk. It will be easy for the Buccaneers, who won't get a chance to defend their Super Bowl title after losing last week to Atlanta at home, to mail it in in a meaningless finale for them. It will be up to Jon Gruden to try and wring something out of this team this week to avoid the embarrassment of a losing record.

2. Fix the special teams. The Bucs are near the bottom in a number of special teams categories, be it coverage, returns or place-kicking. There will be lots of young players playing for jobs in this one for Tampa Bay, so a solid showing is a must.

3. Protect the football. This means you, Brad Johnson. Johnson, who led the Bucs to a Super Bowl title last season, has been a bit careless with the football this season, throwing 18 interceptions, including four in last Saturday's meltdown against the lowly Falcons.

4. Go with a one-two punch. Tampa Bay will try to run the football with the combination of Thomas Jones and Michael Pittman, since it does not have a No. 1 running back. They'll need to run effectively to keep the Titans' pass rush honest.

- Terry McCormick

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