Will the real Bucs please stand up?
Although the Bucs' fingerprints were all over the season-opening loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, somebody wiped them clean before head coach Richard Williamson could match them. As toothless as Tampa Bay's offense had been within scoring distance during the preseason, Williamson still wants to check the dental records to identify it.

And while there was no disguising the Bucs' familiar failures to long-suffering Tampa Bay fans, Williamson said Monday he didn't recognize the team in orange he took to the Meadowlands. "The first thing that stood out was that we didn't look like the same team that we've been coaching, playing with around here since April," Williamson said. "For what reason, I don't know."

But the evidence shows that the Bucs' 16-13 loss to the Jets on Sunday bore every resemblance to the team that struggled to score touchdowns and to stop respectable rushing attacks during the preseason - to say nothing of last season. In four exhibition games, the Bucs' first-team offense scored just two touchdowns. On nine other occasions, Tampa Bay's front-liners were forced to settle for field goals.

As for the Jets' ability to slice through the Bucs' defense behind the running of Blair Thomas, didn't Williamson remember how Kansas City's Christian Okoye averaged 6.3 yards per carry in the final preseason game? On Monday, however, Williamson said he was not concerned whether the Bucs' performance in the season opener looked strikingly similar to those of the past.

"I can't tell anybody what to say or how they're going to express themselves about this ballclub," Williamson said. "The only thing I have control over, hopefully, is to get this team not to do those things. And not to play that way. That's what my job is. That's what my primary purpose is, to get us playing where we win. The only thing I have any control over is what's right here in my grasp. The past? I don't worry about it. Everything that concerns this ballclub and me comes down the road. Not what happened yesterday, but what's going to happen tomorrow."

But first, a look at what happened Sunday. Williamson said two things actually stood out after reviewing the Bucs-Jets game film: His team played timidly and did not make any plays. The Bucs had three scoring chances in the first half against the Jets but failed to produce a touchdown. One drive ended when a pass from quarterback Vinny Testaverde intended for tight end Ron Hall in the end zone was batted down at the line of scrimmage. Another TD chance fizzled when wideout Bruce Hill dropped a second-down pass inside the Jets' 5-yard line. A third chance went by the boards when Testaverde missed Hall with a pass over the middle.

"Everything we were doing, we were feeling our way through and weren't letting ourselves go," Williamson said. "We weren't reckless and aggressive at doing anything, really. We acted like we were going through the motions at times. That's not been a characteristic of this team at all, during the preseason or during training camp. The other thing is, I think as a result of that, we didn't make any plays. We had opportunities as you know, in the first half, to put it in the end zone. We had three shots right dead at it and didn't get it done."

The Bucs' defense deserved points for longevity Sunday, but the game grew old in a hurry when the Bucs allowed the Jets to control the ball for 19 consecutive plays and 12 minutes of the second half. Even though the Jets were forced to punt, the drive kept the Bucs' offense from coming alive. "When a team keeps the ball 19 snaps on you, you've got to make something happen," Williamson said. "I mean, you don't do that. You're either going to intercept it, or knock it loose. You're going to do something to get the ball back. Everything was almost like it was slow motion it's been reckless. Swinging, grabbing, going around and hitting people. And it wasn't that way."

Williamson said Sunday's loss to the Jets is cause for patience, not panic. But with the Chicago Bears looming as the first of three playoff teams Tampa Bay will face in the next three weeks, you have to wonder what is on the Bucs' horizon. "I'm disappointed in what they did," Williamson said. "I mean, here's a team that's done one thing and all of a sudden, they change their personality. I'm not mad. I'm just concerned about it."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1991