Bucs offense, season going nowhere fast
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 28 September 2009

At the very least, they were going to make it more exciting for you this year. They were going to run the ball further, throw it deeper and put it in the end zone more. That was the pledge, anyway.

And just about everything the Bucs did during the offseason was aimed at making good on it. All of a sudden, though, they can't even deliver on that. Not on Sunday, anyway. Tampa Bay franchise records for offensive futility did not come tumbling down during a 24-0 pasting at the hands of the New York Giants. But they were in danger.

A Bucs offense that entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL recorded just five first downs and 86 total yards. For the record, that was bad enough only to match the record for fewest first downs and rank third among games with the fewest yards. It just felt worse.

"Nothing went right," quarterback Byron Leftwich said after the Bucs lost their seventh straight game dating to last season. "I don't think I've ever been a part of a game like that, where nothing went right. You can't even look at this game and take some positives from it. I don't think we had a positive."

The closest thing was probably the play of second-year quarterback Josh Johnson, who replaced Leftwich in the fourth quarter and immediately gave the offense a spark. Even that fizzled out, though, as Michael Clayton dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the back of the end zone before consecutive throws for Antonio Bryant, Jerramy Stevens and Sammie Stroughter fell incomplete.

"I was definitely a part of the problem," Clayton said. "I dropped a couple of passes and as a leader on this football team I can't do that. It was all on us today."

It's hard to argue that point. The Giants were coming off a game in which they allowed the Cowboys to run for 251 yards, and it wasn't like their vaunted pass rush was at full speed. Starting defensive end Justin Tuck was limited by a shoulder injury and cornerback Aaron Ross sat out with a sore hamstring.

Yet, it took until five minutes were left in the third quarter for the Bucs to record a first down. "They're a good defense but they're not as good as we made them look today," Bucs left tackle Donald Penn said. "We made them look like they're the No. 1 defense in the league, and they're not. We were ready to play. We prepared well in practice this week. But we didn't execute. We didn't execute at all. We came out and just laid down."

The Bucs defense didn't lie down. Though poor tackling continued to create problems, particularly against the Giants' running attack, the defense actually played a little better Sunday. After giving up two early touchdowns, it forced the Giants off the field on several occasions and made two key stops in the shadow of its own end zone.

But the offense never took advantage. "It was completely disastrous," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "And you can't just blame one man. You can't blame any two men. We were just outmanned. We were beaten by a grown-man team."

Indeed, there were times when it seemed the Bucs were boys playing against men. Before Leftwich left the game, Tampa Bay gained just 16 yards on first down, including 2-for-5 passing with an interception and four runs that netted zero yards. "They were blitzing us a lot on first down and that really seemed to hurt us," center Sean Mahan said. "It wasn't anything we hadn't seen before. We just didn't play it well."

The Bucs didn't make many plays, either. For example, on an early third-down try, tight end Kellen Winslow caught the ball 2 yards shy of the first-down marker but did not cut upfield to gain the yards necessary to move the chains.

"The first two weeks, we made lot of plays," said Leftwich, whom Morris declared the starter against the Washington Redskins, quelling any possible quarterback controversy. "(Sunday), we made zero plays. We made no plays whatsoever as an offense, and you just can't win football games that way. You're not even going to be close if you play the way we did. When you don't play well in any phase, that's how the game looks. We have to learn from that and understand that it just can't happen in this league."