Lovie Smith eager to see Buccaneers offense get off to a fast start

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TAMPA, Florida — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith is waiting to see his team's offense get off to a fast start.

"If you look at what we did yesterday, in the first half we didn't have the ball enough," Smith said Monday, a day after the Bucs lost 20-14 to Carolina in their season opener.

"In order to establish an identity, you have to have the ball."

The Bucs ran only 15 offensive plays to Carolina's 42 in the first half, falling behind 10-0.

Carolina led 17-0 well into the fourth quarter before Tampa Bay got anything going offensively. The Bucs gained more than half of their 264 total yards in the fourth quarter.

"I don't think any team has an identity until you get to the season, and then you see what you're going to be, what you can do, and it changes each game," Smith said.

"Yesterday we wanted to establish the run, which would open up other things for us. We weren't able to do that."

A knee injury to guard Logan Mankins and two interceptions thrown by Josh McCown kept the offense off the field.

The Bucs' rushing totals of 102 yards, and 6.0 yards per carry, were misleading. Included in those numbers are a 54-yard run by fullback Jorvorskie Lane on his only carry, and 27 yards by McCown.

The extent of Mankins' injury will probably not be known until Wednesday, Smith said.

Mankins, a six-time Pro Bowler, was acquired from New England in a trade on Aug. 26. He left the field on his own power midway throughout the second quarter and did not return.

Smith expressed some optimism that the injury is not serious.

"We're evaluating him. That could be an MRI, and doctors checking him out every which way we can, but right now we don't know a lot more," Smith said. "Logan has been injured before and he feels like, of course, he'll be able to go."

With or without Mankins, Smith said the Buccaneers' offense will take another step next week at home against the St. Louis Rams.

"In the fourth quarter, we scored 14 points. Normally you're going to like that as a football team. You just need to start earlier, and we'll start earlier this next game," he said. "We're not there yet, but we'll figure out how to win football games eventually.

"Sometimes you have to keep sparring, but eventually you find out who you are and what you need to do to be successful. At the end (of Sunday's game), we were at least on the road to that."

NOTES: If the Bucs need a replacement for Mankins, Smith said they would be more inclined to look at their own roster than to sign former Miami Dolphin Richie Incognito, who came in for a tryout in the final week of August. ... Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who was working part time last week while recovering from surgery, returned to work full time Monday. ... Rookie Solomon Patton, who was called up from the practice squad Saturday, "was one of the bright spots" of Sunday's game, according to Smith. The undrafted free agent returned a punt 33 yards to set up the Bucs' second touchdown.


Online: AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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