Anemic offense needs Dungy's touch
Do not let victory fool you. Do not be deceived by the sounds of the cheers. There still is something rotten about the offense of the Tampa Bay Bucs. In celebration, it can be easy to let the problems slide. After all, the Bucs won Sunday. The defense was great. The running game finally woke up in the fourth quarter and dominated so convincingly that Giants coach Jim Fassel surrendered.

It would be nice to believe that cured everything. In the NFL, what winning does not forgive, it has a tendency to cover up. But even the afterglow of a 20-3 victory over the New York Giants was not sufficient to make anyone forget a problem this much in the open. After five weeks, the offense still cannot make a muscle. Or a first down.

This is the problem at hand. This is the reason Tony Dungy should be in Mike Shula's office when today begins. Not to yell, not to threaten, not to take over. But Dungy needs to be more involved in an offense that has trouble staying out of its own way, not to mention the defense's. Goodness knows, somebody needs to help. Until the final two minutes, when the Giants were waving white towels as flags, this was the real score in the game. Tampa Bay defense 7, Tampa Bay offense 6, Giants 3. The Bucs offense was as bad as ever, a collage of fumbles, holding penalties and plays that went nowhere.

Consider the series midway through the second quarter. Jacquez Green went 44 yards on a reverse, but a holding penalty brought all but 8 yards of that back. Still, the Bucs had a first-and-2 play, which should give a team a fairly good shot at a first down. Wrong. A sack turned first and 2 into second and 9. A completion for a 9-yard loss turned third and 7 into fourth and 16. Two more plays and the Giants might have scored a safety.

And you know the amazing thing? The Bucs offense seemingly is capable of such an outburst in any series it has the ball. "Our offense was good enough in the fourth quarter to do what we needed to do," quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "But we've got a lot of work to do. It would have been difficult to win this game if the defense didn't play as well as it did. I like to say that not much carries over from week to week in this league, but when you play poorly on offense for five weeks, something is carrying over. We've got to figure out what it is and fix it. We'll get it figured out."

Soon would be a good time. Before the defense sues for non- support. It was the offense that cost the defense a shutout when Dilfer fumbled at the Bucs' 10. It was the offense that kept the game in question by going for fourth and 1 midway through the third quarter. What were the Bucs coaches thinking then? Hadn't they been watching the game?

When a team can't convert third and 1, what makes it think it can convert fourth and 1? With a 10-0 lead, it would have been a better idea to punt and pin a bad Giants offense deep. Instead, the Bucs gave away the ball at midfield. As for Dungy, he not only is not bothered about the lack of offense, he seemed surprised that anyone else was. "I'm not as concerned as everybody else is," he said. "I'm not as concerned as I was last game. The offense will be fine. We'll be fine."

You would like to think so. You would like to think that the second half, when the Bucs came out intent on banging dents into the Giants' defensive line, set some sort of tone that will carry them. You would like to think that Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, combining for 100 yards in the second half, are the shape of things to come. You would like to think that somewhere in there, the personality of this offense returned. But, as guard Frank Middleton said, "We thought that after the Chicago game, too."

For the Bucs, this is an important time. They have two weeks to make repairs. Tampa Bay needs to put its offense on a hydraulic jack and see what is wrong underneath. No offense, Dungy needs to play the role of head mechanic.

Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 1998