TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- When things aren't going well for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, Tony Dungy leans heavily on some lessons learned from close friend and former boss Dennis Green.
Green has been a master at guiding the Minnesota Vikings through all kinds of adversity over the past 10 seasons, and his approach to handling his team in tough times has also worked for Dungy.
"Denny is great identifying what you have to do to win," said Dungy, who spent four seasons as Minnesota's defensive coordinator under Green before accepting the Bucs' coaching job in 1996.
"The biggest thing that happens when you're not winning is you start looking at other places or try to figure out what to do, and most of the time it's just, 'Hey, this is how we win games. We throw the football to Randy Moss, we run our backs, we play pressure defense, let's get back to that.'
"And, guys have been there long enough that they believe in it."
Dungy consulted often with Green while Tampa Bay was losing eight of its first nine games under the then-rookie head coach. The advice was always the same: Stick with your program and wins will follow.
The Bucs won five of their last seven to finish 6-10 in 1996, and won at least 10 games and made the playoffs three of the next four seasons. Each time, they rebounded from early or midseason slumps to play their best ball down the stretch.
Dungy and his players face the same challenge this year, beginning Sunday when Tampa Bay (2-3) tries to stop a two-game losing streak against Green's rejuvenated Vikings (3-3).
"This is another one of those deals where we really don't even know how we got into this hole," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "But I'm telling you that we've got the ability and know how to get out of it. Now, we've just got to do it We'll see what kind of team we have."
The Bucs overcame 3-4 starts to make the playoffs the past two seasons, winning eight of their last nine regular-season games in 1999 and going 7-2 down the stretch last year.
But critics question whether the team can do it again, primarily because two staples the Bucs have always been able to count on under Dungy -- solid defense and a productive running game -- have been missing in the first five games.
After watching Brad Johnson throw 90 passes in losses to Tennessee and Pittsburgh the past two weeks, Dungy more than ever is convinced the only way to get back on track is running the ball.
Defensively, he's confident the team can eliminate costly lapses by simply paying closer attention to the little things that make a unit work.
"Our philosophy has always been that we believe in what we're doing, and when we aren't winning it's just because we aren't doing it well enough," safety John Lynch said.
Lynch pointed out the Bucs are essentially in the same position the Vikings were in when the teams met last month at the Metrodome.
Minnesota, then 0-2, silenced its critics with a 20-16 victory to begin a stretch in which the team has won three of four, including last week's 35-13 trouncing of Green Bay.
"People, by all intent and purposes, were writing them off," Lynch said. "Look at them now. They're 3-3 and back in the thick of it. We can draw on their experience. The message there is if you just take care of business from this point forward, we can get back in it."
Green agreed. He doesn't buy all the talk about Tampa Bay underachieving or being in danger of letting the season slip away.
"What it comes down to is the competition is very stiff. You never know how good a team is going to be. You know, though, when it comes down to the end Tampa is going to be in the hunt," the Vikings coach said.
"It's early. It's way too early for anybody to be declared the champion, too early for anybody to be declared in the playoffs and too early for anybody to be declared out."
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