Bucs get little in 24-0 loss
Byron Leftwich had been beaten, booed and benched. So after a 24-0 loss to the Giants on Sunday, the 29-year-old quarterback was asked if his job as the Bucs starter should meet the same fate as Tampa Bay's offense: three-and-out. "I'm smart enough to understand they drafted a young quarterback," Leftwich said, referring to first-round pick Josh Freeman.

"Going into this thing before the season started, I knew we would have to win some games. That's just me understanding and being smart about the whole situation. We haven't done that so far. So no matter whose fault it is or what the reason is for it, we're 0-3. Do I want to remain the starting quarterback of the team? Heck yeah. I feel as though we can still win football games. But we'll see what happens."

For the record, coach Raheem Morris said Leftwich will start Sunday at Washington. "I can't sit here and tell you that this game can be blamed on any one man," Morris said. "If I take Byron Leftwich out of the game, I might as well take everyone else with him."

There were two Bronx cheers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, which was laden with Giants fans. The first came with 4:58 remaining in the third quarter, when Cadillac Williams took a handoff from Leftwich and plowed 3 yards for a first down to the Tampa Bay 36.

It was the first time the Bucs offense, which entered the game fourth in the league at 401.5 yards per game, had moved the chains all day. Prior to that, the Giants held a 279-32 advantage in total yards and 18-0 in first downs, and had held the ball for all but about 12 minutes in the game.

The second mock jeer came when Josh Johnson replaced Leftwich after the Bucs' first fourth-quarter drive ended with another three-and-out. On his lone drive, Johnson went 4-of-10 for 36 yards, scrambled once for 15 yards and accounted for four more first downs. But even that drive sputtered when he threw four incompletions after the Bucs had it first and goal from the 5.

The Bucs had just 86 yards of offense, and their five first downs tied for the fewest in club history. "Nothing went right. I don't think I've ever been part of a game where nothing went right," Leftwich said. "And me being on offense, there's nothing to look at and say, 'Okay, take some positives from this game.'

"It sucks when you play that bad. And it sucks when you play that bad and we know we're a better football team. It's something we did wrong because nobody played well. We've got to look at ourselves in the mirror and find a way to not let it happen again."

Prior to Sunday, the Bucs' only bright spot under first-year coach Morris had been the performance of the offense. That's because the defense entered 31st in the NFL and had given up 900 yards and five touchdown passes of more than 30 yards in losses to Dallas and Buffalo. Against New York, not much changed.

The defense couldn't get off the field, allowing New York to compile 397 total yards, including 228 on the ground. In fact, the Giants held a whopping 43:38-16:22 advantage in time of possession. The biggest disappointment for the Bucs was their inability to run the football, finishing with 28 yards on 10 attempts.

"The running game is where we have to start, where we have to end, where we have to be," Morris said. "They were more physical. They were bigger. They were faster. They were tougher in all aspects of the game, every single one."

Not that the Bucs didn't have their chances. They trailed only 14-0 after the Giants' Lawrence Tynes missed a 23-yard field goal just before halftime. Even trailing 7-0, the defense got a stop, and the Bucs had good field position at their 41. But Leftwich was hit, trying to throw a bomb to Kellen Winslow, and was intercepted by Terrell Thomas.

"It backfired on us," Leftwich said. "I've just got to do something. I don't know what. Grab the ball, hold it. I just can't allow that ball to be picked off."

Leftwich stepped from the podium gingerly. His right leg was stiff from a shot he took on the hip early in the game. Limping away, he looked a lot like the Bucs offense Sunday. "When you don't play well in any phases, that's what games look like," Leftwich said. "The first two weeks, we made plays. We just didn't make any plays. We made zero plays. We made no plays."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 27 September 2009