Dungy: no defense for offensive woes
If one big question was what the Bucs would do without injured-for-the-season wide receiver Horace Copeland and holdout running back Errict Rhett, the first answer apparently was: not much. But after Sunday's 34-3 shellacking by Green Bay, Bucs coach Tony Dungy admitted: "I don't know if Copeland and Rhett would've helped today."

Jerry Ellison, the only Bucs running back who has been through this kind of game before, was even more candid. "Emmitt Smith wasn't here, either," Ellison said, "and I don't know if he'd have made the difference. No way to say what would've happened."

Alvin Harper, supposedly the go-to guy with Copeland out, caught only five passes for 35 yards and gave the ball away twice. "They obviously knew we were going to go to Alvin Harper," Dungy said, "and he had a couple of chances early in the game. He dropped one ball that became an interception and fumbled another one when we were moving the ball. In a game like this against a good team you're going to get a limited number of opportunities and you've got to make the most of them. Today we didn't, Alvin Harper or anyone else."

Fullback Mike Alstott and running backs Reggie Brooks, LeRoy Thompson and Ellison managed 59 yards on 23 carries, a 2.6-yards-per-carry output (1 yard per carry less than Rhett averaged last year). Alstott also caught four of Trent Dilfer's 13 completions for 42 of the Bucs' 123 passing yards. "I thought Mike showed that he belongs in the league and he's going to be a good player," Dungy said of the second-round draft choice. "We didn't get much of a running game going in the first half and then we were behind in the second half, so (this game) really isn't a fair assessment. Mike was probably the one bright spot on offense."

The Bucs' second-quarter running game was extraordinary in its ineptitude. Brooks, Thompson and Ellison carried the ball five times for minus-6 yards. None gained a yard. Alstott wouldn't touch the what-would-Rhett-have-done question, except to say, "One man doesn't make an offense. One man doesn't make a team."

And Brooks said Rhett "wouldn't have prevented the interceptions. He couldn't have controlled the outcome, not enough of us did the job well enough to get it done, myself included."

Alstott said he was personally pleased with his pro debut, but that he made his share of mistakes, too. "We just didn't execute any kind of offense in general," Alstott said, "but it's going to get a lot better. We start tomorrow with different boards (a new game plan) and different films, fixing the problems we have to correct."

Half the problem with the running game, Ellison said, was the first half. When it ended, the Bucs were in a three-touchdown hole and couldn't afford to try to work the Packers on the ground. "It was discouraging enough that we weren't able to put a running game on the field when we were in (the game)," he said of the 16 carries-for-28 yards at halftime, "and when you come out in the second half down that many points, you're going to come out throwing. We can't let a game like this get us down. We've got another one next Sunday. We've got 15 more of them."

Sunday's game and the Bucs' boo birds were a rude welcome to Tampa Bay for Brooks, picked up after the Redskins released him in the preseason. But it wasn't new to him. "Up in Washington, we didn't do a lot of winning my three years there, so I can understand (the fans') frustration," he said. "I just hope they understand we're frustrated, too. It's not like we want to lose. I think we'd really appreciate continued support. This is a good football team. It's just a matter of correcting the mistakes. We do that, we're capable of beating anyone."

Bruce Lowitt, The St.Petersburg Times 1996