Bad pattern still pulls Bucs
The physical toll of a day of NFL play had little to do with the pain Lawrence Dawsey was feeling late Sunday afternoon.
Slumped before his locker-room cubicle, the Bucs' second-year receiver was nursing a completely different type of wound: a neck that ached from looking back.
"We're tired of hearing about the history of this team," Dawsey said. "This is this year. We talk about the past too much around here. We need to talk about the future. We need to start concentrating on what we've got to do and stop worrying about what happened before we all got here. Because we can't change that. We've got a better team than in the past, so we don't want to lag on what happened in the past."
But as long as performances like Sunday's 24-14 loss to Indianapolis occur, talk of the Bucs' past never will be history. With an offense that self-destructed for the first time this season, Tampa Bay went out against the Colts and failed the how-will-they-handle-success test.
"All week, I think Sam (Wyche) was trying to get us to avoid the letdown," Bucs tailback Reggie Cobb said. "But it happened anyway. A team has to learn how to win, and to learn how to win you've got to win the games you're supposed to win. And this game we were supposed to win. This is the NFL. You jack around, you get beat - anywhere you play. Home or away, it doesn't matter who you play. We were a perfect example of that last week (when we beat the Lions)."
And again this week. Despite dominating the first half statistically, Tampa Bay held a precarious seven-point lead at the break. Then the Bucs came out flat in the third quarter and watched as the Colts ripped off the game's final 17 points. In the end, Tampa Bay had time on its side - owning a 37:28-22:32 possession advantage - but little of value. Proving that no opportunity was too good to be bungled away, Tampa Bay dropped at least six passes and committed three turnovers.
The biggest miscue of the day belonged to Bucs rookie tight end Tyji Armstrong, who butterfingered a first-quarter Vinny Testaverde pass, turning it into an interception by Colts defensive back Chris Goode. Goode returned from the Bucs' 48 to the 2, setting up a first-down Rodney Culver touchdown plunge. Said Testaverde: "I told Tyji in pregame warmups - he was out there dropping balls - and I said, `Tyji, focus. Focus on the ball.' It was a little windy, but you've got to focus and carry that through."
Despite having just 2 yards of offense and 30 seconds of possession time up to that point, Indianapolis was alive and well at 7-7. At the half, the Colts had three first downs and 6:30 of possession time but remained close at 14-7.
"I know they probably felt good just still being in the ballgame in the first half," Bucs receiver Mark Carrier said. "We've got to learn how to put them away. We just didn't do that. It's something you have to do every week, week in and week out. Just because we had a great win last week, that doesn't mean it's going to automatically happen this week. Every week is different."
Still, Tampa Bay has held halftime leads in all five of its games, but in the past three weeks, each Bucs opponent has scored a touchdown in its opening third-quarter drive. A five-play, 71-yard march that took just 2:41 tied things at 14 Sunday.
"That's kind of what we have done every game, struggle in the third quarter," Cobb said. "We have no idea why. It's like a totally different football team. Something's missing. Guys just aren't getting it done. But we also did a lot of things we didn't do before today. A lot of dropped balls, and more turnovers than we can afford. It was like we were out of synch all day long."
But Bucs fans have seen far too many out-of-synch performances lead to down-the-sink seasons. What they won't see is history repeating itself, promises Carrier.
"Nobody looked past these guys," he said. "We've been through this situation enough to know we can't take anybody lightly. This is a totally different ballclub. We're not going to do what we did after we played Dallas in 1990 (six straight losses). We have much more character than that on this ballclub. Whatever happened in the past, I don't even listen to that. I don't listen to any of that negative stuff. I'm not concerned with what happened two years ago, or three years ago. If you come out and play hard, things are going to happen for you. It just didn't today."
Don Banks, The St.Petersburg Times 1992