Black Sunday Reveals Your True 04 Bucs
Joey Johnston, The Tampa Tribune, published 27 September 2004

Black Sunday. Three games in, and already the season is long gone. Anybody who thinks the Bucs can turn this thing around is delusional. Black Sunday. The sum total of all Buc nightmares. Jon Gruden's team slapped silly in his return to Oakland. Black Sunday. Oakland 30, Tampa Bay 20.

If you turned in early - or if you had no electricity to watch this nationally televised debacle - trust me, it was much worse than that deceptive score indicates. It was the night when the 0-3 Bucs got exposed for what they are - non-contenders. They are on the fast track to 6-10 - or worse. ``There's a lot of football left,'' Cosey Coleman said.

Really? ``Yeah,'' he said with a knowing sigh, ``but we can't keep coming in here week after week saying, `There's a lot of football left.' I don't know, man. It's crazy. Right now, we're all over the place on offense. All over the place. We've got no rhythm. We aren't getting it done.''

No wonder. The Bucs are old and slow. They have labored and sputtered, scoring just two offensive touchdowns all season, those coming in Sunday night's garbage time after Oakland had rung up a 30-6 lead. The defense finally broke under the weight of non-support, surrendering big play after big play. Just wondering, anybody heard from Simeon Rice?

Charlie Garner blew out his knee. He might be done - for good. Brad Johnson, a sitting duck in the pocket, looked awful until the cause was lost. Sure, his final stats seemed respectable. He is far from blameless. His floating rope, upon which you could've hung a week's worth of laundry, was intercepted by Phillip Buchanon in the third quarter and taken to the house. It was 23-6. It was over. ``I don't think Brad had a lot on it,'' Gruden said. ``I don't know if he set his feet.''

But look at the play. What were the Bucs trying to accomplish? Tight end Dave Moore was split wide left, running a 3-yard route. Buchanon hung back. ``I thought [Moore] was wide open,'' Johnson said. He didn't see Buchanon, saying an offensive lineman was in his line of vision. Johnson threw it anyway.

During an earlier sequence, fullback Jameel Cook was split out wide. Charles Lee and Michael Clayton were on the sideline. Keenan McCardell was in Houston. ``We're running out of people to go to,'' Gruden said. Running out of excuses, too.

When Gruden sprinted onto the Network Associates Coliseum field, he was booed loudly. When he was introduced by the public-address announcer, it got louder. ``I wasn't treated real nicely,'' he said.

Wait until he hears the Buc fans. Two years after winning a Super Bowl, Gruden's team is in full free- fall. The Bucs have lost nine of their past 12 games and show no signs of immediate recovery. ``These are rough times for me,'' Gruden said. ``So I try to block out a lot of the noise, if you know what I mean.''

It will only get louder. The team built to win now isn't winning. It barely has a pulse. Now the 2-1 Broncos are coming to town, followed by trips to New Orleans and St. Louis. Does anybody seen a turnaround in here. Somewhere? Anywhere? ``It's tough,'' Gruden said. ``It's humbling. It's a horrible feeling.''

This is the path he has chosen for this team. He rolled the dice on Joey Galloway and Garner. He tried to assemble an offensive line of aging spare parts. He thought the defense would work fine without Warren Sapp and John Lynch. ``We're running out of lineup changes we can make,'' Gruden said. ``We're running out of players we can use. All we can do is live in our hopes, not our fears. We've got to win a game.''

Gruden seems like he'll stick with Johnson in the short term, although he says Chris Simms must ``stay loose.'' He's banking on the return of Michael Pittman, of Galloway, of Joe Jurevicius. It's bordering on desperation at this point. It was a gleeful scene for the Black Hole, for the fans he left behind in the dead of night in 2002, when he jumped to the Bucs. Gruden will have Super Bowl XXXVII, always. But the Raiders made him suffer Sunday night, and it might be a long time before the Bucs can be considered contenders again. That was the reality of Black Sunday.