Gloomy Four-Cast
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 4 October 2004

Ray Perkins never had it this bad. Neither did Sam Wyche. Unlike Jon Gruden, those former Bucs coaches never had a Tampa Bay team stumble out of the gates the way this one has. The Bucs, who lost 16-13 to John Lynch's Denver Broncos on Sunday, are 0-4 for the seventh time in franchise history. And that's not even the worst of it. This is: We're not even through the first week of October and already the Bucs are four games behind the Atlanta Falcons - former Bucs GM Rich McKay's Atlanta Falcons - in the NFC South standings. ``The hole is pretty deep,'' Brad Johnson said.

OK, so John McKay and Tony Dungy had 0-4 starts as well. The Bucs were at a different stage back then. In McKay's case they were building. In Dungy's case they were rebuilding. In both cases, all eyes were focused on the future. This edition of the Bucs is all about the here and now. It's been Super Bowl or bust since Bruce Allen, who was hand-picked by Gruden, replaced McKay as GM in January. But history tells us it's more than likely going to be bust. Only one NFL team has reached the playoffs after starting 0-4. That was the 1992 San Diego Chargers, a team that went 11-1 in the final 12 weeks.

Nobody in the Bucs' locker room is ruling out such a rebound. Then again, nobody seems very confident that this team will stage a miracle comeback, either. Not with games at New Orleans and St. Louis next on the docket. ``We're playing just good enough to lose,'' Tim Brown said. ``It's a matter of guys needing to make just one or two plays. That's it.''

That's what it was Sunday, when many of the 65,341 who poured into Raymond James Stadium did so to honor former Bucs safety Lynch, who certainly did his part to make his return to Tampa Bay a triumphant one. With the game tied at 13 and the Bucs near midfield late in the third quarter, Lynch stopped Mike Alstott after a 2- yard gain on a second-and-3 play, then stuffed Alstott for a 2-yard loss on third-and-1. It wasn't so much plays like that, though, that did the Bucs in. Rather, it was plays like the one Charles Lee made midway through the first quarter, when the game was still scoreless. After hauling in a Brad Johnson pass and gaining 14 yards to the Bucs' 29, Lee fumbled, setting up the Broncos' only touchdown - a 5-yard pass from Jake Plummer to former Bucs tight end Patrick Hape. ``I was trying to make something more out of that play,'' Lee said. ``I should have gotten what I got and just got out of there, but I didn't do that. I just wasn't thinking.''

Maybe the same can be said of nose tackle Chartric Darby, who gave the Broncos a first down just after the two-minute warning when he jumped offsides on a third-and-3 play that came while the Broncos nursed their 16-13 lead. Gruden called the penalty ``tragic,'' noting that it kept the Bucs offense from getting the ball back with the time necessary to attempt a game-tying or winning drive. But that penalty was no more tragic than the pass interference that Dwight Smith took a series earlier, one that allowed the Broncos to move from their own 13 to the 50 and eventually set up for their game-deciding field goal. ``A couple of years ago, we find a way to get off the field in those situations,'' Ronde Barber said. ``We find a way to get the ball back and find a way to score. I mean, we know better than that. We've been better than that. Those are the kinds of things that get you beat and that's what's happening right now. We're doing stupid things. Bad teams do stupid things.''

Good teams do stupid things, too, sometimes. Somehow, though, they can get away with it. That was certainly the case Sunday, when Lynch failed to make sure Bucs rookie receiver Michael Clayton was down after making a big catch. After watching Clayton make a diving catch of a Brad Johnson pass at the Denver 20 early in the second quarter, Lynch ran over and simply touched Clayton to down him at the spot of the grab. Clayton, however, was in the process of getting up and already had his knees off the ground when Lynch tapped him on the back. Despite losing his helmet on the play, Clayton just got up as Lynch ran by and headed toward the end zone. ``I should have tackled him, I guess,'' Lynch said. ``But there's a new league emphasis that if you hit a guy while he's lying down you will be penalized 15 yards. So I tried to do the right thing for the first time in my career and try to keep [NFL enforcement officer] Gene Washington out of my pocket, and I got burned.''

It was the only time that Lynch and the Broncos got burned. Take away Clayton's 51-yard TD catch and the Bucs gained just 218 total yards while producing just two Martin Gramatica field goals. ``We had some rhythm offensively against the No. 1 defense in the league today, but we had a couple of key penalties stop drives and negate big plays,'' Gruden said. ``We had a fumble negate a big play. When you play a team like Denver you just can't make mistakes like that. We turned the ball over one time and I don't believe we generated a turnover defensively. All in all, we just didn't get it done today and we're all just sick about it.''