TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -Jon Gruden bristled when asked if Tampa Bay's surprising perch atop the NFC South has restored a winning atmosphere around the Buccaneers.
``We won 11 games two years ago. It's not like we've been flushed down the toilet forever. We had a bad year last year for a lot of reasons,'' the coach said Monday.
``We've got a lot of guys on our football team who know how to win, expect to win and come in here every day preparing to win. The same with the coaches. We realize that we have six wins and that doesn't guarantee us anything. But we are seeing signs of improvement, and for that we're excited to get back to work.''
Gruden has grown increasingly more weary of references to 2006, when the Bucs went 4-12 and missed the playoffs for the third time in four years.
At 6-4 they've more than surpassed their victory total for last season and are 3-0 against division rivals after going 0-6 a year ago.
Sunday's 31-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, coupled with losses by Carolina and defending NFC South champion New Orleans, left the Bucs with a two-game lead over the second-place Panthers and Saints.
The remainder of the schedule appears favorable because it doesn't include an opponent that's currently better than .500. Still, Gruden and his players aren't making any assumptions about the final six weeks.
``We're just going to take it one at a time. As I said last week, I don't think anybody expected us to be leading our division 10 weeks into it. And I'm sure there are enough people out there that don't expect us to hang on to it,'' Gruden said.
``It is important to keep winning, that is all I know. We have been fortunate to get off to a good start against our division. But beating a team twice in one year is a real challenge. It's hard to do. We just have to continue to get better as a football team and see what happens.''
An improved running attack and a resurgent defense keyed Sunday's domination of the Falcons.
Earnest Graham, who became the starting running back five games ago because of injuries to Carnell ``Cadillac'' Williams and Michael Pittman, rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown. The defense had four sacks, forced four turnovers and scored on Ronde Barber's 41-yard fumble return.
Graham, a fourth-year pro who played mostly on special teams until Williams and Pittman were sidelined, topped 100 yards for the second straight game. He leads the Bucs with 556 yards rushing and has five TDs.
``He has been very good for us, as a runner, as a receiver, as a guy we've relied on. ... I think what he's done the last four or five games speaks for itself,'' Gruden said. ``He is the real deal.''
Another unheralded player, former Arena League star Greg White, made an important contribution on defense.
The 28-year-old rookie end had two sacks and forced two fumbles, including the Byron Leftwich turnover that Barber returned for Tampa Bay's first defensive score of the season.
White, the 2007 Arena League defensive player of the year while playing for Gruden's younger brother, Jay, in Orlando, leads the Bucs with 4.5 sacks. That's pretty good for a guy who didn't join the team until after the start of training camp.
``Every time he makes a play, I can hear my brother up in the press box saying: `I told you so,' Gruden said.
``But he's a good kid, a good guy, a hard worker, and he does have natural pass-rush ability. He's raw a little bit in terms of the big picture, but I give a lot of credit to Greg White. We got him late in training camp, and he's made a real impression on all of us.''
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