Offensive play calls for apology
Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times, published 11 October 1993

Perhaps they should say it with flowers. Then again, candy is nice. Sometimes, good old-fashioned pleading works. And it always is hard to go wrong with a nice piece of jewelry presented on bended knee. However delivered, an apology is in order. Somewhere, somehow, and as soon as possible, the offense of the Tampa Bay Bucs needs to beg forgiveness from its defense. Otherwise, it risks being sued for non-support.

The most pointless weekend in Tampa Bay history continued Sunday, when the Bucs absorbed a 15-0 clubbing from the Minnesota Vikings. Watching this was a lot like watching Lightning fail to strike twice, except even the hockey team had more shots on goal. If nothing else, the Bucs' defeat proved there is no defense for a bad offense. The Tampa Bay defense played perhaps its finest game of the year, continuously blunting the Vikings despite turnovers and bad field position. The only really bad thing you could say about the Buc defenders is they have fallen in with bad companions - namely the Bucs' offense.

A team gets a defensive effort such as this one, and even an average offense will win a game. Trouble is, the Bucs don't have an average offense. Right now, they have an exceptionally poor one. I know, I know. A week ago, against Detroit, we all thought the Bucs' offense had arrived. Instead, it was only making a guest appearance.

Against Minnesota, last week seemed like a one-hit wonder. This was the offense that scored three points against Kansas City, seven against New York and made 17 against Chicago look like an accident. Yes, the Vikings have a wonderful defense, a high-risk, live-on-the-edge team that especially is hard on a team with a young quarterback and young receivers, who must make blitz adjustments often. But in the NFL, even good defenses give up points. Even the Bucs should have scored well, how many? "More than zero," center Tony Mayberry said.

The thing is, the Bucs only came close to scoring once, in the garbage time of the final moments. Except for that, it was futility. Quarterback Craig Erickson had his worst day as a starter, the wide receivers dropped passes and the team managed only 2.8 yards per rush. When Sam Wyche arrived in town, it was easy to envision the Bucs scoring if not winning. Wyche's offensive resume hinted that if losses were to continue, some of them would be of the 31-28 variety. Even this preseason, Wyche downplayed skeptics of his team's ability to move the ball.

The points haven't come, however, and neither have many victories. Last year, Tampa Bay was next-to-last in NFC scoring. This year, it is last. Sunday's meager 169 yards may knock the Bucs from 26th in total offense to last place. "When we improve offensively depends a lot on the development of a couple of individuals," Wyche said. "A lot of our offense is improvisation. That comes from people knowing each other. It was this way in San Francisco our first two years, and that turned out all right. We'll get there."

Maybe. But when something is this slow, it's hard to see it move at all. In the most crucial points of the game, the second and third periods, the Bucs ran 19 plays for 21 yards. Erickson hit 1 of 11 passes for 7 yards. Reggie Cobb ran seven times for 11 yards. The Vikings kept the ball for 22 minutes and 29 seconds of the half-hour of playing time. And a scoreless tie was suddenly 12-0. The only true progress the offense made was this: On the safety it allowed, it proved conclusively Erickson has been throwing with the correct arm all along. "You come off the field, and you feel for people like Broderick (Thomas) and Hardy (Nickerson), who are playing as hard as they can, and we can't get it done," wide receiver Lamar Thomas said. "I knew they had a good defense. But I figured we'd score some. Enough to win."

As it turns out, the Bucs didn't score enough to win if the defense had pitched a shutout. That has to change. If Tampa Bay is going to improve even to mediocre, then the offense must have something to say. Something, that is, besides "I'm sorry."