No offense, Bucs, but where is it?
Craig Erickson asked me to be gentle. Tampa Bay's new quarterback swears it'd be wrong to say last rites over the 0-1 Bucs. Dearly beloved, we're gathered . . . "There aren't going to be too many Sundays like this," Erickson promised after a 27-3 orange crushing by Kansas City. "Nothing's really too tough about football. This is a lot easier game than it's made out to be."

Sorry, Craig, but the Bucs made it look disgustingly difficult. That's why so many of Sunday's 63,378 ticket-holders departed Tampa Stadium with boos on their breath. But you're right, young No. 7, that the sport did appear to be a far more elementary exercise when Joe Montana, fresh from 32 months of NFL medical leave, limbered an aging right arm to flick three touchdown darts. Oh, I forgot. Be gentle.

Sam Wyche was talking about the Bucs having a 1-1 record after next week's road engagement with the New York Giants. "Half the league will be 1-1," said Tampa Bay's head coach. Yeah, but will that have anything to do with the Bucs? Sam's eyes are obviously far sharper than mine. He saw a lot of Bucs hope that I missed. Clark Kent lives.

But there are volumes of indelible facts to back up what I'm about to gently say. It's something Craig Erickson doesn't want to hear, and something Wyche doesn't care to believe. Montana did a precise, professional 14-for-21 torching of Tampa Bay's defense. Joe in a red jersey casts a spell over the Bucs, whether there's an S.F. on his helmet or a K.C. Defense was leaky, but Bucs special teams were even lousier. Tampa Bay kickoff returns - and a Gary Anderson who looks older all the time - advanced the football only as far as its 15-yard line, its 16, its 10, its 21, and finally its 14. How's that for starters?

But the deadliest Sunday downer was a Tampa Bay offense that has been suspect for months, or years, or decades. Steve DeBerg, a golden oldie with a tarnished passing arm, appeared either unwilling or unable to throw more than a dozen yards downfield. Wyche will argue. "Nothing was wrong with Steve," Sam said. A reporter pressed the Bucs coach, mentioning DeBerg's inefficiencies through a steamy afternoon when the Bucs went 0-for-10 on third-down opportunities. "I believe I just said," Wyche replied, "that he (DeBerg) didn't struggle."

Eye of the beholder. With every non-scoring possession, DeBerg heard escalating Tampa Stadium boos. "We want Erickson!" was an increasingly popular chant. With 10:35 remaining in the third quarter and Kansas City in 17-3 control, Wyche ordered the 24-year-old former University of Miami quarterback to the whipping post. Erickson didn't fare much better. DeBerg completed 12 of 20 throws for 79 yards. Craig hit eight of 15 for 61. But there was more mustard on the kid's throws. Erickson is a deep threat, something Steve seems not to be at age 39.

Truth is, even if nobody in Wyche's camp is willing to admit it, Kansas City had zilch respect for Tampa Bay's passing game. At times, nine Chiefs defenders crowded the line. They dared, and the Bucs offense could do nothing about it. I'm trying to be gentle . . .

Is this one of those chicken-or-egg things? Tampa Bay couldn't pass because it couldn't run, and the Bucs couldn't run because they couldn't scare Kansas City with the pass. We're talking deadly dilemma. An efficient Tampa Bay running game unquestionably would have eased the heat on DeBerg and/or Erickson, but Bucs blockers could make few cracks in Kansas City's defensive wall. Tailback Reggie Cobb resembled a red-seeking missile who kept finding nothing but Chiefs tacklers. After gaining an imposing 1,172 yards last season, Reggie averaged 1.6 per carry Sunday. He's no real threat without the diversion of a Bucs passing game.

Wyche and Erickson may not believe it, but I - and maybe a few dozen more Tampa Bay souls - am not giving up on the 1993 Bucs. Their defense will be better than it was Sunday against the great Montana. Special teams have no place to go but forward. But offense is a problem.

DeBerg is not the long-range Tampa Bay hope, so should he be the short-range quarterback? I'd say no, but I'm expecting Wyche to say yes for next Sunday's game in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Sam's the coach, and I'm not. He knows these Bucs far better than we do. He clearly believes in them. Wyche swears the season has almost no chance of becoming another ghastly Tampa Bay bust. If so, it's got to change. Remember be gentle.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1993