Bucs Had Chances To Win, But It Was A Wasted Effort
This one got stuck somewhere, like that John Wade snap to Brian Griese that found its way onto the rug at the Edward Jones Dome, into the hands of the St. Louis Rams near the Bucs end zone, which they entered shortly thereafter. This one just missed, like those two abominable wide lefts by Martin Gramatica, who is sinking fast in the Gramatica family kick rankings. If he has a long lost brother named Bobo, Bobo is coming up on the outside.

This one was close. How close? The Bucs were 15 yards from a touchdown after an Ian Gold interception and return. They were 8 yards away as Michael Pittman was brought down after a run. Pittman was about 6 inches from the ground, atop Rams tackler Adam Archuleta, when the football came loose. Archuleta picked up the ball and ran 93 yards for a seven-point lead as stunned Bucs looked on. Strange, but true. Yeah, it was close. What does that matter now?

The Bucs are 1-5 instead of 2-4 after losing 28-21 to the Rams. For good measure, not- worth-a-plug-nickel back Mario Edwards was burned on the winning touchdown pass. Old reliable Tim Brown - hold the reliable - killed the second of two Buc attempts to tie it late with a handy- dandy fumble at the St. Louis 12 with 26 seconds left. Where there was hope now there is only haze.

You see, close doesn't matter at 1-5 - 1-5 is what matters at 1-5, the end of the season, for real, is what matters. The Bucs picked a strange route, a bizarre avenue, but it added up to the same dead end. They always seem to rise on up on Monday night against the Rams, no matter where the game is played. Mondays that were never boring. This one was exciting, too, as required by Bucs-Rams law. Does it matter?

Two missed field goals. Two red-zone fumbles. Another fumble to boot. A large interception. They beat themselves. Soundly. This was a game the Bucs could have won, even more than the other games this season they could have won. A wasted evening.

Brian Griese's impressive first start as a Buc, 27-for-40, 286 yards, two touchdowns - wasted. Heck, even Griese wasted it with a late interception. A breakout game from Michael Clayton, eight catches, 142 yards - wasted. All that good defense - wasted. Gold's interception - wasted.

Booger McFarland's fumble recovery to set up the Bucs touchdown that tied it at 21 late in the third quarter - wasted. The touchdown itself, Griese to Will Heller on a beautiful play-action - wasted.

All the good stuff didn't mean a thing when Torry Holt ran past Edwards and under a Marc Bulger touchdown throw. It's one game until the bye and this season just said bye-bye. The Bucs had no one but themselves to blame. They outplayed the Rams at times. Enough to win.

They found themselves trailing 7-0. Linebacker Jeff Gooch looked lost, safety Jermaine Phillips took the wrong angle and, like that, Torry Holt was gone for a 52-yard touchdown catch. But the Bucs came back. Griese was remarkable. He completed his first nine passes for 128 yards. Mike Alstott barreled in for one score. Griese, as he was driven to the ground, hit Michael Pittman with a TD pass. It was 14-7. Then it got away.

Between Gramatica gags - misses from 35 and 48 yards - the Bucs handed the Rams a touchdown. They put St. Louis right back into the night. Pinned down by a punt, standing at his own 5, Griese kindly asked for the ball from his center over the din of a domed crowd. But Wade couldn't get it there. It got stuck under his rump. Griese reached for it. If he had reached any further under Wade, he would have needed a doctor's note. The ball hit the ground. Soon it was 14-14.

As if that wasn't strange enough, there was Pittman's fumble. How did he not hit the ground before losing the ball? He was sitting on Archuleta's tummy, that's how. The Rams led 21-14. And how. The Bucs came back again. Greg Spires forced a fumble. Booger fell on it. Griese made great plays, the last to Heller. Maybe it would be a Bucs night. Edwards, torched. Griese, picked off. Tim Brown ... oh, what's the point?

It was close. Within reach. Now an entire season isn't.

Martin Fennelly The Tampa Tribune 19 October 2004