TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -There were plenty of reasons for Tampa Bay's hasty exit from the playoffs.
The offense sputtered after a quick start, the defense was unable to force mistakes by Eli Manning, and special teams fumbled away the second-half kickoff, helping the New York Giants pull away to a 24-14 victory in Sunday's NFC wild-card game.
One thing coach Jon Gruden said was not a factor was resting most of his starters the final two weeks of the regular season, a move that raised the question of whether he set up the NFC South champions for failure in the postseason.
``We really didn't have a choice, OK? People can question it, and I'll answer,'' Gruden said. ``I'll take the criticism. We didn't lose because of what occurred last week. ... I think a lot of other people would have handled the situation the same way.''
The Bucs (9-8) lost four of their last five games. Gruden insisted the only way he could give his team a chance to be successful against New York was to try to ensure as many regulars as possible were healthy.
``I think Bill Parcells said it best: You're not right unless you win,'' said Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud, one of two regulars on defense who did not play in the season finale against Carolina. ``You rest guys and lose, then you shouldn't have rested them.''
Cornerback Ronde Barber was one of the veterans who would have preferred to not sit out much of the last two games, but he didn't second-guess the decision.
``You know what? At the end of the day, it doesn't matter,'' Barber said. ``I'm sure some boneheads will make that point. ... It's irrelevant. We're professionals. We know what our job is.''
One of the players Gruden expected the rest to help was Joey Galloway, who injured his shoulder three weeks ago and still was not 100 percent Sunday. The 1,000-yard receiver, Tampa Bay's only legitimate deep threat, had one catch for 9 yards and was not on the field at the end of the game.
``He was ineffective,'' Gruden said. ``He obviously wasn't Joey Galloway.''
Quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was intercepted twice after throwing only four picks during the regular season, also discounted the effect of the layoff. The offense struggled after outgaining the Giants 78 yards to minus-2 and taking a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
``I don't want to harp on whether we were rusty or not,'' Garcia said. ``I don't think it had any effect on me or my teammates.''
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