Plenty to take offense at in latest Bucs effort
On throwback Sunday, the day the NFL celebrated its own past, leave it to the Tampa Bay Bucs to lead the way. Now, I know what you're thinking. That the Bucs' offense was wretched Sunday. That it pulled into the NFL lead in the all-important aroma category. That it invited new and creative ways to use the words stink bomb in a sentence. Hah. Actually, what you were seeing was genuine frontier football, taken directly from the yellowed pages of the Decatur Staleys. Except, uh, it didn't work for Decatur, either.

Granted, if you have watched the Bucs for any length of time, you have seen some bad offenses. You have seen fumbling and stumbling and bumbling to last a lifetime. You have seen ugly so much that you know every zit in the playbook. This was worse. This was ugly's uglier brother.

The Bucs lost 9-7 to the New Orleans Saints and the feeling was that if the game had lasted until a week from Thursday, they would have lost 9-7. Against a team that is simply putrid defending the run and only slightly less putrid against the pass, the Bucs managed one lousy touchdown. For three years, since Sam Wyche rode into town with the reputation of an offensive faith healer, we have been waiting for this offense to arrive.

We're still waiting. From the looks of Sunday's game, we'll be waiting for some time. Seven points. In the NFL, a team's kicker should score seven points a game. A team's defense should set up seven a game. A team's offense, said center Tony Mayberry, should score seven points a quarter.

In 35 games under Wyche, the Bucs have scored fewer than 20 points 21 times. Twice in three weeks, against beatable opponents, the Bucs have shown their offensive limitations. Every couple of years, games such as this have come along for Tampa Bay. It happened in 1990, when the 4-2 Bucs blew a lead to a then-weak Dallas team. It happened in 1992, when the 3-1 Bucs lost at home to a weak Indianapolis team. Both times, long losing streaks followed.

This time the offense was miserable from any angle. Quarterback Craig Erickson was awful. His offensive line was terrible. The wide receivers were dreadful. The running backs were abysmal. The tight ends were quick, somebody lend me an adjective. Remember, these are not the Saints of 1991, when the Bucs were tickled to death that they managed a touchdown against a great defense. These Saints will struggle to win six games.

Other teams had rushed for more than 150 yards a game against the Saints. The Bucs managed 85, 39 on one drive. Other teams had passed for 249 yards a game. The Bucs had 176. Other teams had held the Saints to two sacks in two games. Against the Bucs, the Saints had five. Other teams totaled 401.5 yards. The Bucs had 232.

Those, however, are just numbers, and numbers cannot reach the depth of this swill. Despite it all, despite not being able to run or pass, the Bucs had a chance to win. It was late in the game, and a short punt put Tampa Bay at the New Orleans' 44. One first down from there, and the Bucs can try a field goal. Fifteen more yards, and the odds would be in their favor.

And the Bucs went nowhere. Game on the line, a beatable team on the other side, and the Bucs went nowhere. Which tells us a lot about the alleged progress of this team. Miracle of miracles, however, the Bucs got another chance. And after a pair of terrible plays by Saints' cornerback Tyrone Legette, who failed to cover Willie Green on fourth and 27 and was called for pass interference 11 yards downfield on fourth and 15, the Bucs still couldn't pull it out.

"There aren't words to describe how p----- off I am," seethed Mayberry afterward. "We gave them three points on a fumble, and we gave them three more at the end of the first half. If this game doesn't p--- you off, you don't deserve to be in the NFL. This is crazy. This is about accountability. A lot of guys are going to have to take a look at themselves. Players have a job to do, and some of them aren't doing it. The guys who can play should be in there, and the guys who can't shouldn't be."

The only trouble is, if the Bucs depended only upon players who were doing their jobs, they might have trouble fielding an offense. It is little wonder that one of the biggest cheers the offense received all afternoon came when rookie Trent Dilfer warmed up on the sideline. The way Erickson played, it was tough to blame the crowd. Erickson played his worst game in some time, looking indecisive, throwing erratically. Only a week ago, the Saints helped Washington's John Freisz hold off rookie Heath Shuler by making him look like a star. This week, they helped Dilfer close the game by making Erickson look bad. "I didn't feel I did my part," Erickson said. "I shorted some guys out there."

One more loss, maybe two, and the screams grow louder for Dilfer. But at least there is an alternative at quarterback. For other problems, there is no option. Remember how good the offensive line was in the opener against the Bears? It's beginning to look as though that was more a commentary on the Bears than the Bucs. They do not open holes, they do not pass protect.

Nor do they suffer from loneliness. The wide receivers cannot get open. There are lingering delay penalties. There is poor clock management. There is trouble, still. And that is the worse offense of all.

Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 1994