Bucs get tossed for a loss
There are a lot of things to remember when you are a struggling young quarterback like the Buccaneers' Craig Erickson. But which hand you pass with should not be one of them. So how do you explain Erickson, predominantly right-handed since birth, attempting to heave one left-handed out of the end zone against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday?

Referee Gerry Austin noticed something wasn't right about the pass Erickson dumped off with his left to avoid a sack by Chris Doleman. So Austin awarded the Vikings a safety. "Well, I'm not ambidextrous," Erickson admitted later. "It was pretty tough to get the ball there left-handed. But I took a shot at it."

Why not? Nobody could blame the Bucs' switch-missing quarterback for trying to pass like a soldier out of step (right, left, right) in Tampa Bay's 15-0 loss to the Vikings - the first time the Bucs have been shut out since 1991.

After all, using his right hand, Erickson completed only 12 of 29 passes for 122 yards. Five of his passes were dropped and the Vikings intercepted four others. He also was sacked twice - including once for a safety - and suffered one horrible stretch, from the start of the second quarter until the game's final seconds, during which he completed only one of 13 passes.

The victory left the Vikings tied for first place in the NFC Central with Detroit and Chicago, while the Bucs (1-4) remained in the cellar. The Bucs were a lot like Erickson. On the one hand, they stunk offensively, gaining only 169 yards and committing five turnovers. On the other hand, the defense was superb, sacking quarterback Jim McMahon five times - two by rookie Eric Curry - allowing only one touchdown, and holding Minnesota to 2-of-13 in third-down conversions.

The Bucs' heroic goal-line stand collapsed only after they had denied the Vikings on three attempts inside the 1. On fourth down, Barry Word slammed across for a 12-0 lead. "They're improving," defensive coordinator Floyd Peters said. "They're young. But turnovers were the key to the game. We had an opportunity for a couple of those turnovers but didn't come up with them. Their defense did, and our offense was stuck in a hole all day long. You can't give field position like that and expect an offense to go 99 yards for a touchdown. We're a young team, but it's the best improvement I've seen in three years."

Not improved was the offense, which held the ball for only eight plays in the third quarter, gaining only 8 yards. By the time the Bucs gave up the running game, tailback Reggie Cobb had gained only 55 yards on 16 carries. But it was the Bucs' receivers - who butterfingered away at least five on-target passes on crucial downs - that made the Vikings' defense look even better than its No. 3 ranking. Tampa Bay played without leading receiver Lawrence Dawsey, whose season ended with a knee injury last week against Detroit.

"I'm not blaming them (the receivers) for this loss," Sam Wyche said. "I wish they'd caught them. We did miss Lawrence Dawsey, yeah. He's our leading receiver and the clutch guy you go to. Somebody else is going to become that clutch guy. As an offense, we simply could not get it going. They just outplayed us. Turnovers are always going to be a factor, and we had too many again today."

Erickson accounted for four with interceptions - but he was luckless on two of those. One pass popped off the hands of a diving Charles Wilson and into the mitts of Vencie Glenn. Another was wrestled away by Carl Lee on a bomb to rookie Horace Copeland.

But Erickson also badly overthrew Ron Hall, then tried to shoehorn a pass to tight end Tyji Armstrong but was intercepted in the end zone. "I think Craig is still a young quarterback, in terms of he's making mistakes that won't be made after today," Wyche said. "He's making judgments on the field that will be different judgments later. The unpredictable part - the different judgment may not turn out any better or it may turn out tremendously better. Who knows? He's like all young quarterbacks. He's not perfect the first time he steps in there. You don't see him make too many mistakes twice."

The Bucs might have won had they registered a pulse offensively. The Vikings came into the game griping about their offense, which is ranked 22nd under an aging McMahon. He was sacked five times and struggled to complete 15 of 25 for 157 yards. He also was intercepted. The Bucs' defense kept Minnesota from taking advantage of four of the five turnovers, giving up only a field goal after Cobb's second-quarter fumble. "At times we did the right things and other times we got beat physically," McMahon said. "Other times we screwed ourselves with penalties."

Wyche remained upbeat despite Tampa Bay's worst start since '91. The Bucs have another bye week to straighten things out before Green Bay visits Oct. 24. "There's a lot of football left," Wyche said. "We're playing better. That's what we've got to believe. "We lost today and that's hard on us. But we're getting better every time we walk on that field, and if we don't get to celebrate wins as we get better, that's too bad."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1993