Raiders ruin Buccaneers' season

TAMPA, Fla. — Jon Gruden talked about injuries, Derrick Brooks mentioned an inability to close out games in the fourth quarter and Jeff Garcia harped on the disappointment that will linger for months.

One thing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all agreed on is that they have no one but themselves to blame for not making the playoffs because of an 0-for-December collapse.

"To be on the verge of doing some great things and then completely fall apart is the ultimate letdown," Garcia said after Sunday's 31-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders eliminated the Bucs from contention for the last NFC wild-card spot.

"To be 9-3, and you lose four in a row when all you have to do is win one and you're in, it's tough to swallow," Dunn said. "The guys in this locker room have prepared hard, played hard. Things haven't gone our way."

Michael Bush rushed for 129 of a career-best 177 yards in the fourth quarter, helping the Raiders (5-11) overcome a 10-point deficit and make their final case for interim coach Tom Cable to keep his job.

Tampa Bay (9-7) was tied for first in the NFC South heading into this month but was outscored 62-19 in the fourth quarter and overtime of losses to Carolina, Atlanta, San Diego and Oakland down the stretch.

Bush's 67-yard TD run put Oakland ahead for good. He carried nine consecutive plays on the Raiders' next possession, moving the ball 56 yards from his own 42 to the Tampa Bay 2 before the Raiders settled for a field goal that made it 31-24 with 1:09 left.

"I'm sick for our players and our fans, more than anything. ... We did not play our best football in the month of December," Gruden said. "There's a lot of reasons for that ... and obviously I didn't do a good enough job."

Losses to the Panthers and Falcons ended realistic hopes of repeating as division champions. More puzzling, though, were setbacks the last two weeks at home — where the Bucs were 6-0 before this month — against teams with losing records.

It's certainly not the way Tampa Bay's normally reliable defense wanted to go out under longtime defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who's leaving to join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee.

Oakland fired Lane Kiffin as its coach four games into this season, replacing him with Cable, who has won two straight and is 4-8 since taking over. He will meet soon with owner Al Davis, who did not travel with the team to Tampa Bay.

"It's all I can do. It's the best I can do," Cable said. "I want to be the head coach of the Raiders, but it's not in my hands. But I certainly know I put this team together and got it going in the right direction, and today proved that."

The Raiders were mum about Davis, but the Oakland Tribune reported doctors advised him to not fly across the country because of some swelling in his leg. It was believed to be just the second time he has not attended a game since becoming a part of the organization in 1963.

JaMarcus Russell threw two touchdown passes for the Raiders, who fell behind 24-14 when the Bucs kicked a field goal and used Sabby Piscitelli's 84-yard interception return to set up Carnell "Cadillac" Williams' second TD run.

But Oakland's young quarterback rallied his team, taking advantage of a 43-yard pass interference to get the Raiders back in the game with a 12-yard TD pass to Johnnie Lee Higgins. That was just the beginning of the end for the frustrated Buccaneers.

Williams, who missed the first 10 games of the season because of a career-threatening injury to his right knee from September 2007, hurt his left knee at the end of a 28-yard gain in front of the Bucs bench.

That drive stalled on downs at the Oakland 33, and Bush took charge from there. The 245-pound, third-string running back broke two tackles before bursting through a gaping hole and scoring on his long TD.

Bush, playing a bigger role because Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden were hobbled by injuries, carried 14 times for 48 yards in the first three quarters. He gained 129 on 13 attempts in the fourth quarter.

It was most rushing yards in a fourth quarter by a Raider since at least 1991, and the third most in the NFL in that span behind Adrian Peterson's 146 against San Diego in 2007, and LeShon Johnson's 131 for Arizona against New Orleans in 1996.

"It was on my shoulders," Bush said. "They started giving me the ball, and I started getting loose."

It was an ideal ending for the Raiders, who relished their role as spoilers.

"We've been knocked out of the playoffs for a while," Russell said, "so it feels great to do it to somebody else."

Notes: The Bucs allowed 756 yards rushing in their last four games. ... Garcia threw for 257 yards and one TD, a 58-yarder to Michael Clayton. ... Russell threw a 3-yard TD pass to Chaz Schilens in the second quarter.

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