Opening Statement: “I won’t have a big update on the injury list until after practice, but there is a chance Alex Smith our tight end who has missed the last two games and Jermaine Phillips, free safety, who has missed the last four or five games could play. We’ll have to give you those evaluations at the end of practice.”
Q: Are you a little concerned with your team given the tendency for slow starts?
Gruden: “I don’t like to fall behind if we can help that. It’s been very impressive the way we’ve done it, that’s for sure. I’ve been very impressed that we’ve won the games. It’s a hard league. You guys know that. I do like the football character that we’ve shown and our ability to show poise and play good down the stretch and find ways to win. We don’t want to fall behind against the New Orleans Saints or anybody else. We know that.”
Q: Do you feel your offense is playing a lot better this year?
Gruden: “We’re playing a lot better since (Jeff) Garcia got here. We did some really good things last year and we’re doing some good things I think so far this year. I don’t think we’re on the cutting edge of being great right now, but we’ve done some really good things, done some decent things running it, done some decent things throwing it and continue to do that if we want to stay alive.”
Q: From what you’ve seen on film, are Drew Brees and the Saints offense, playing at even a higher level than you’ve seen the last two years?
Gruden: “I don’t know about that. They’ve been pretty good really since Drew got in town. I wish he would have signed someplace else, but that’s the way it goes. I saw him play great two nights ago against the Packers. They’re going to throw for yards. They’re going to make some plays. They’re going to come out throwing it, throwing it and they’re going to make some plays in the process. I have seen Carolina, I have seen Atlanta and a couple of teams at least get in their way and slow them down and do some good things too. They will be a stiff challenge. We have a lot of respect for their players and obviously Sean (Payton) does a heck of a job with his staff, so we’re really going to have to play great.”
Q: What’s the key to slowing down that offense?
Gruden: “We’re pretty good on defense. It’s not like we’re chopped liver. We can’t blow coverages. I think in the game the other night, the first touchdown, no one covers the guy. We can’t do that. We can’t blow coverages. We have to get a good four man rush, five man rush, get a blitz, whatever we do. We have to tackle. We have to try to eliminate the big plays. We’re pretty good on defense here, at least that’s my belief.”
Q: Both the Saints offense and Buccaneers defense have lost some players to injury and people step in and play well. Do you see a comparison with the Saints offense and your defense that they play at a high level, when everyone isn’t available?
Gruden: “We’ve been fortunate here defensively where other than Jermaine (Phillips), we’ve been pretty healthy. Monte (Kiffin) does a great job and we think our defensive team is proven. The secondary is better with the addition of Aqib Talib. Obviously Phillip Buchanon and linebackers are really playing well. We’re just worried about what we can control. We’re not going to worry about who we’re going to play. We have great respect for the Saints. We were already beaten there once. We’re just going to try to have our best week of practice and let it rip.”
Q: What do you think of Lance Moore and his emergence. Is he sort of like the secret weapon?
Gruden: “He’s not a secret anymore. He’s caught a lot of balls down there. He’s obviously a very reliable guy and to me that’s the key for the Saints. Drew Brees puts them into good plays. He puts them in good plays every snap. He knows where to go, the hot receiver. He knows who to get it to and make the audible. You have to have reliable, accountable people. To have a guy like Moore, who is also a talented guy, that is a double-edged sword for a defense, but I’m impressed with the accountability and reliability. Their offense has done a great job. Nobody says anything about their defense. All I know is they had three interceptions the other night and could have had five or six. I’m really impressed with them.”
Q: Does Lance Moore kind of remind you of the way Wes Welker is?
Gruden: “That might be a good comparison. They have all kinds of weapons. He’s certainly not just a serviceable player. He’s capable of ripping you. We know that. We have a lot of respect for him. You throw in (Marques) Colston, (Jeremy) Shockey, (Devery) Henderson and all these other guys, that guy (Deuce) McAllister, whatever his name is. He has 100 touchdowns. He seems to play his best football against us every year. We’re going to have our hands full, but we’re excited about it.”
Q: It seems like the last two games that the Saints secondary has played better. Do you agree?
Gruden: “I think they’ve done a great job personally. Coach (Gary) Gibbs and Joe Vitt, I think those guys have done a hell of a job adjusting. There’s no Charles Grant. (Mike) McKenzie goes down. They change their front, using some creative blitzing now. I’m just impressed with them. I think they have some young players like Sedrick Ellis who has a chance to be outstanding. I always thought (Scott) Shanle, (Scott) Fujita and Jonathan Vilma are three of the hardest playing Jessie’s in pro football, so it will be a stiff test for us.”
Q: Does the way Jeff Garcia came back after he was benched show you what he is made of?
Gruden: “He was hurt. People can write and say what they can want. He was hurt. He wasn’t really benched. He missed all of training camp. He hurt his ankle. He was hurt. He’s come back and played as consistently as he did for us a year ago. His won lost record and completion percentage speaks for itself. He’s a winner. I think you guys and everybody needs to step back and tip their hats to the veteran quarterbacks this year, the Kurt Warner's, Kerry Collins, Jeff Garcia. These guys have led teams into the thick of the playoff race.”
Q: Is Warrick Dunn still playing at a really high level?
Gruden: “He really is. We missed him for a couple of weeks. He’s back now at close to 100 percent. As a rusher and as a receiver, we always felt he was a valuable guy. We’re happy to have him here. We’re going to have to lean on him. We lost a heck of a back in Ernest Graham. Fortunately we have Warrick Dunn here.”
Q: Do you remember the four NFC South teams all having such impressive records this late in a season since the division started?
Gruden: “No, I don’t, but I do remember it every year being pretty much the same. When you have an MVP candidate at quarterback playing for the Saints and you have one of really the great rookie quarterback in the league that I’ve ever seen in Atlanta and Jake Delhomme coming back in Carolina and Jeff Garcia steadying the waters here in Tampa, there’s a big reason why these four teams are where they are. They’ve all played solid defense and they have gotten very consistent play from their quarterback.”
Q: The competition and tight race probably isn’t a lot of fun for the coaches, but do you think this next five weeks will be a lot of fun for the fans?
Gruden: “It will be great. The NFC South has finally taken shape. We didn’t really have any common rivalries and now that we’re familiar with one another over the last seven seasons, the stage is set for a great finish.”
Q: Does it complicate your defensive preparation at all not being sure if Reggie Bush will play or not?
Gruden: “We’re going to prepare for him and we’re going to expect to see him. We’re going to have to prepare for a juggernaut whether or not if that happens. Reggie’s hurt us in the past and we’ll have to prepare for him. That’s for sure.”