Whatever the reasons are, there's no excuse
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times, published 4 October 2004

Take heart. It could be worse. By now, one supposes, the Bucs could have lost five out of four. Just think. What if the coaching staff wasn't so darned clever? What if the front office didn't have such a shrewd plan? What if the owners weren't willing to spend so much money? What if the team didn't have such veteran leadership? What if the players weren't competing so hard? Gee. In that case, one supposes, the Bucs really would be in trouble.

As it is, this 0-4 start, evidently, is but a mere annoyance. Wander through the locker room, and you can hear how close the Bucs have been to victory, and how hard they are competing, and how few plays are standing between them and the seventh level of wonderfulness. Listen, and the temptation is to immediately rush into the street and warn the NFL that it had just better watch out.

This is what 0-4 does. It reduces a team to a jabbering stream of cliches that losing teams have used since the days of the Frankford Yellow Jackets. It leaves fans attempting to find a measure of pleasure in the comparative comfort of a close defeat. It leads to the lowering of standards and the rapid emptying of locker rooms. Ah, 0-4. As in Oh-For-Crying-Out-Loud.

This is awful. This is a bottom-feeding, sense-numbing assault on the senses. If it gives you one second of pleasure that the Bucs lost by three instead of by, say, 14, then you should immediately have an L tattooed to the middle of your forehead. Nothing quite screams "loser" like someone trying to find comfort in prettying up a defeat. Yes, if you're measuring losses, this one was a trifle better than the others. That's like saying that Police Academy III was the finest movie of the series and that, if you're going to get ill, measles are better than malaria.

Repeat: The Bucs are 0-4, and they should immediately draft a letter to the commissioner thanking him for starting the season a week late. Even for a franchise that has lost - and lost in a majestically horrible, orange-coated fashion - for most of its history, this is only the seventh time Tampa Bay has started 0-4. Think about it. So far, this year's Bucs are as bad as they were in their first year, and in the year before Doug Williams arrived, and in the year after Williams left, and in Leeman Bennett's first year, and in Richard Williamson's last stand, and in Tony Dungy's first year.

The average turnout of those seasons, by the way, is 2.5 victories. So at least 2 1/2 teams are in trouble, though from here, it's hard to say which two and which half. It is fair to say those teams lost some close games, too. So did the Bengals and the Cardinals and the Lions, teams that were forever a few plays away, who were forever lamenting close losses and and tough calls and bad breaks.

That's the sad thing. The Bucs have returned to the squalor of their old neighborhood. They have gone from champion to expansion team so fast we may all get the bends. They aren't talented enough to win big, they aren't poised enough to win close. Here's a stat that jumps out at you. In games decided by 10 points or fewer, Jon Gruden is 4-15. In games decided by more than 10, he's 15-2.

Granted, this game was a bit less hostile on the senses. There was a little more life, and a little more youth, to the offense. Hey, better to watch The Rugrats Movie than another showing of Cocoon. Though, it should be said that when you are pleased to see Kenyatta Walker again, it's one of the seven warning signs of a season gone desperately wrong. Here is the disappointment, however. As games go, this one was a fruit begging to be plucked. It was there for the offense, which couldn't reach it. It was there for the defense, which couldn't hold it.

Again, that happens with losing teams. They can defend their ground perfectly well on little plays, but on important plays, the game-shaping plays, they turn into the waiter you can't find. There is something about the final quarter that makes good teams big and bad teams small. This one? It turns into an ant farm. Consider the final three possessions by the Bucs offense (not including the final play). All three times, the Bucs could win the game with a crucial drive. Instead, they got only one first down. Of their final 11 plays, seven went for 2 yards or less. They kept the ball for 200 seconds, for 87 seconds and for 97 seconds.

Consider the final two possessions by the Bucs defense. Both times, the Broncos were pinned on their 10. Both times, they played keepaway. Once, they kept it for almost six minutes of the fourth quarter before kicking the eventual winning field goal. The second, they kept it for 7:23 of the final 7:26 of the game. Every time the Bucs appeared close to making a stand, they could not get out of their own way. There was Dwight Smith's 37-yard pass interference penalty on third and 8. There was Derrick Brooks' defensive holding on a Broncos field goal (Denver ran another 64 seconds off the clock before kicking it again). There was Chartric Darby's offsides when the Bucs seemed to have stopped Denver in time for a last-chance drive with 1:54 to play.

This is what happens at 0-4. Bad teams find a way to lose. Afterward, they find the phrases to explain it away.