TAMPA, Fla. – Mason Foster stood in a mostly empty locker room talking about why the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers feel good about where they're headed.
The team's revamped defense has yielded game-winning field goals in the closing seconds each of the past two weeks. Still, Foster believes the Bucs (0-2) clearly are better on that side of the ball than a year ago, when the unit nearly set a NFL record for passing yards allowed.
The third-year linebacker points to the job the defense did against Drew Brees during Sunday's 16-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints as proof.
The Bucs sacked the New Orleans star four times, pushing their total to nine in two games — one-third the number they had all of last season. They also had two interceptions, one of which Foster returned 85 yards for a touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"It's tough. Any time you lose games the way we've lost the last two weeks, it hurts bad," Foster said Monday. "At the same time, it makes people more hungry. I feel that everybody on our team wants to push harder, wants to do the extra things now because we know we're right there."
The Bucs were last in the NFL in pass defense a year ago, but have taken on a new look — and attitude — with the offseason addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson.
In addition to limiting New Orleans' explosive offense to one touchdown, Tampa Bay was penalized three times for unnecessary roughness for helmet-to-helmet hits against the Saints. The Bucs also were flagged for three personal fouls in Week 1 against the New York Jets, and Goldson was fined $30,000 for a hit on tight end Jeff Cumberland.
Goldson, an All-Pro last season with San Francisco, was suspended by the NFL for one game without pay after being penalized again Sunday for hitting Saints running back Darren Sproles in the head.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn drew a penalty for a hit on Brees, and safety Ahmad Black was flagged for hitting tight end Jimmy Graham in the head.
Before Goldson's suspension was announced, Coach Greg Schiano reiterated he wants his players to remain aggressive, but also play within the rules.
"It really doesn't matter whether you think it's a penalty. It's called, so it's a penalty," Schiano said in response to a question about whether he agreed with all of the calls.
"That's really the issue. If something's going to be called, we have to avoid it because it's hurting the football team," Schiano added. "On the same token, I want our guys to play hard. I don't think anybody's intentionally trying to do that, so we just have to be more and more aware of that situation and make sure we avoid that as much as we can."
The Bucs have committed a league-high 23 penalties for 220 yards in two games.
Foster said the personal fouls — five of them for hits to the head and the other for a late hit on Jets quarterback Geno Smith — have been the result of teammates playing hard.
"Everybody knows the rules. It's football. Everybody's playing as fast as they can," Foster said. "Playing at a fast pace, it's really hard to make a good tackle and play how you want to play and think about it. Nobody's out there trying to hurt anybody or trying to hit them in the head, but it's part of football."
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