TAMPA-Returning to the town where he coached the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in his first season, Jon Gruden doesn't wasn't to hear about Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's inability to win a play-off game.
"You don't have to apologize going to the playoffs in this league," said Gruden, the ESPN analyst working Monday night's game (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5 and ESPN) here against the Bucs. "I got fired the year after we went to the playoffs. I got fired after back-to-back (9-7) winning seasons. It's hard to have a winning season…That's a tough division. It's tough."
Hard to believe, but it's been seven years since Gruden got canned and he's been loving quarterbacks on tape ever since. Colleague Ron Jaworski's takes not so much.
"Jaworski does that. I don't do that," said Gruden, when asked where he ranks Dalton. "All I know is he's won 40 games in four years, so I put him at the top of the business."
Gruden never won 40 games in four years with the Bucs, even though his Super Bowl champs won 12 games in 2002. He defends Dalton and says he needs some help.
"They've got some turnovers to take care of," Gruden said. "But if you look at it, A.J. Green is at the end of a lot of those turnovers. They have to tighten up that combination. If that becomes the best combination in football, they'll eliminate the turnovers."
Gruden says it's hard not to like Dalton on tape.
"I like everything about him," Gruden said. "I've seen him run read options, I've seen him run no-back sets, I've seen him run the no huddle. I think Cincinnati needs to get their team to play together better in the playoffs.
"If you have Marvin Jones, A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict, all that helps. Get some pass pressures, get some turnovers, it's not all on him."
NO. 1: Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston is the fifth quarterback drafted No. 1 overall who faces the Bengals in his rookie preseason. It's become a ho-hum deal for these Bengals, who have 11 defensive players doing it for the third time.
They held Cam Newton to six of 19 passing in the Bengals' 24-13 victory over Carolina at Paul Brown Stadium in 2011. Then the next year they had a brief encounter with the Colts' Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, where he threw just two passes in the pre-season finale.
On this trip, the Bengals bring one Winston's old Florida State teammates and friends. Running back James Wilder Jr. Wilder is going to get plenty of action in his hometown Monday and after the game he plans to swap uniform jerseys with Winston.
"He's a leader in the locker room and obviously he's a great athlete," Wilder said. "He's a young guy, but he's (a leader) and you don't see that often . . . that what makes him stand out more than others."
Of course, Wilder thinks Winston is going to make it. He says he can throw, run, whatever. But he does think he'll have to change his game a tad.
"He's got an arm. When it comes down to it, he'll dump it and take off," Wilder said. "Even if it doesn't come down to it, sometimes he'll take off to just show a little extra. Instead of sliding and getting extra yardage, showing a little move some times. I was one of those guys that would tell him, 'Get your butt on the ground and slide.' He didn't in college. But I'm sure now that he's in the league and getting paid money, he's going to have to slide, I'm sure."