There are several truths teams hold to be self-evident when playing the Buccaneers.
No Tampa Bay lead ever is safe, no fourth-quarter collapse ever is too improbable, no collar ever is tighter than the ones on the players in orange.
So it was that the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday kept the faith despite seemingly giving away every conceivable chance of winning the game.
Quite simply, they knew one thing. When it comes to breakdowns, the Bucs could be AAA's best customers.
Unable to protect a fourth-quarter lead for the second straight week, the defense folded like origami to allow Seattle to score two touchdowns in the final three minutes for a come-from-ahead 17-13 loss to the Seahawks.
The game-winning touchdown was scored on a 14-yard run off a draw play by Lamar Smith, the Seahawks' third-string tailback, with 31 seconds left.
But both Seahawks touchdowns were the result of the Bucs' failure to stop the combination of receiver Brian Blades and quarterback Rick Mirer.
Entering the fourth quarter, Blades had been held to one catch for 14 yards. But in the final two drives, he hauled in eight passes for 78 yards - including a 5-yard TD pass - to cut the Bucs' lead to 13-10 with three minutes.
"We just let them hang around, like a vulture. Pretty soon, he's going to find his prey and we were it," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "They made the play and we didn't. That's what it all boils down to. If we go out there and we stop them, we win. That's two weeks in a row we've done that."
The loss dropped the Bucs to 0-4, their worst start since they finished 3-13 in '91. The Seahawks enjoyed their first win of the season to improve to 1-3.
"I don't know what I would've done if it was the other way around," Seattle coach Dennis Erickson said. "Maybe jump off a building."
If there was a consolation, it's that most Bucs fans had the good sense not to show up.
The 30,212 that dotted Houlihan's Stadium represented the smallest home crowd for the Bucs since - appropriately enough - they played the Indianapolis Colts on the final game of the '91 season in the Repus Bowl (opposite of Super) that pitted the worst two teams in the league that season.
Sunday's game featured the winless '76 expansion twins, who haven't improved much in 20 years.
The Bucs dominated the game for three quarters, building a 13-3 lead that turned out to be as firm as wet tissue.
A fake punt that resulted in a 40-yard run by John Lynch set up the Bucs' lone touchdown in the first half - a 2-yard run by tailback Reggie Brooks.
The Bucs also got field goals of 33 and 28 yards by Michael Husted, who has connected on 16 in a row dating to last season.
The Seahawks buried themselves with penalties, committing eight for 95 yards.
And for 50 minutes, Tampa Bay's defense held Mirer to just 8-of-20 passing for 91 yards, including an interception by linebacker Hardy Nickerson to set up Husted's fourth-quarter field goal and give the Bucs a 10-point lead with 9:20 left.
"But any time in this league you give a team that many opportunities to beat you, they're going to find a way," Sapp said.
As it did last week in Denver by allowing the Broncos to drive 80 yards for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, the defense collapsed.
Mirer got hot and completed 12-of-17 passes for 118 yards and a TD in the final 9:10.
Most of his passes were aimed at Blades, who kept running a simple square out route that the Bucs acted as if they never had seen before.
"To play the way we played the whole game and come down to one drive and we can't go out and get the job done, you've got to turn and look yourself in the mirror and say, hey, we're not getting the job done," Sapp said. "That's on the defense."
The Bucs allowed Seattle to convert on fourth and 3 from Tampa Bay's 37-yard line when Mirer found Blades on a short pass to sustain its first TD drive.
Two of Blades' receptions converted third-down situations on the game-winning march.
Compounding problems was a bruised hip suffered by linebacker Lonnie Marts, who couldn't return for the Seahawks' winning drive. In his place was Jeff Gooch, a rookie free agent from Austin Peay who never had lined up on defense in a regular-season game and was put in the position of trying to cover Blades.
Despite the defensive woes, Tampa Bay's offense did its part to blow the game.
With the Seahawks trailing 13-10, Tampa Bay needed only a first down or two to run out the final three minutes.
But on third and 9 at the Bucs' 14-yard line, Alvin Harper let a pass from quarterback Trent Dilfer slip through his hands, negating what would have been a certain first down at the 31-yard line and allowing the Seahawks one more chance.
"There's no need to run away from it. I should've caught the ball," Harper said. "It was an easy pass to catch. The ones I caught in the first half were harder balls than the one he threw me over the middle. I don't know how it got away from me. It's beyond me. It just slipped through my hands."
Tony Dungy cautioned against blaming a single play for the loss, and who could argue?
"Every guy in that room is looking at a play here or a play there that could've won the game," Dungy said.
"When you lose a lead at home, that's always tough. But at some point, we've just got to win a game. Right now, we're 0-4 but they're all really the same. They're four losses."
Dilfer, who was 15-of-26 passing for just 118 yards and was intercepted on game's final play, tried to remain diplomatic after a subpar effort.
"We're going to be better because of this," Dilfer said. "We're not going to be the Bucs of the '80s or whatever you want to call it. We're going to be a very good football team here one day. It may be next week, it may be the end of the year. I don't know when it's going to be, but eventually we're going to be a fine football team. Experiences like this are going to contribute to it."
Does that mean he can accept losses like Sunday's?
"Heck no. This s---ks," Dilfer said. "I hate this. I don't think I've ever been in a loss like this where you're winning, you're dominating a game like this and then you end up losing. I never once in this football game thought we had a chance to lose."
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1996