Bucs' giveaway day
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked and sounded like a team that is headed back to the psychiatrist's couch. Or Sam Wyche's office. They talk about how they feel so good about themselves, but still ask for an aspirin to erase the pain that comes from losses like Sunday's emotional drainer against the Chicago Bears. Analyzing the Bucs can be a weird science, but they might have done well to follow one simple formula at Soldier Field: Stay out of Reggie Cobb's way. The second-year tailback ran over the old and fattened Bears by carrying 24 times for 109 yards and a touchdown. But that wasn't enough to atone for three turnovers and leaky pass defense in a 31-14 loss to Chicago.
It was the second straight loss for Tampa Bay (3-3), which fell into a second-place tie in the NFC Central with the Bears. It also continued the Bucs' miserable misfortune at Soldier Field, where they've lost 12 of 14 games and haven't won since 1989. "The score's going to make it look like they whipped us pretty good," Wyche said. "But I think they (the Bears) were over there saying any moment, one missed play, and we'd be right back there with them. The first thing I said was, `The world didn't end, men. We're okay. We've got a lot of learning to do, and hopefully we're not always going to be learning from losses.' "
Here's what the Bucs learned against Chicago. The Bears may be a little more toothless, but quarterback Jim Harbaugh is good enough to pass for a career-high 304 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay's fragile secondary. The biggest strike was an 83-yard bomb to Anthony Morgan in which Bucs safety Darrell Fullington collided with teammate Darryl Pollard and allowed the Bears' wideout to run free to the end zone from midfield. "We have two guys standing right there with him, and they run into each other," Wyche said. "It'll make the NFL Films highlights for bloopers."
Other candidates might be the third-quarter fumble by running back Gary Anderson at the Chicago 5-yard line with the Bucs trailing 21-7. The play spoiled a beautiful 34-yard play-action pass from Vinny Testaverde to rookie wide receiver Courtney Hawkins just two plays earlier. Hawkins led Tampa Bay with five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown, but his fellow receivers did not fare nearly as well. Veteran Mark Carrier sprained a knee after taking a shuttle pass from Testaverde in the second quarter and did not play in the second half. Starter Lawrence Dawsey sprained an ankle and was forced to leave the game in the fourth quarter. "We made some mistakes in this ballgame," Wyche said. "The fumble at the 5-yard line. The long pass where two of our defenders run into each other and they maintain their footing and run it (83) yards for a touchdown."
But despite those mistakes, the Bucs still had a chance to make a game of it, trailing 21-14 with 5:36 to play. But Testaverde floated a pass out to Cobb over the middle that was easily picked off by the Bears' Shaun Gayle to set up the padding touchdown.
"Well, he threw it off his back foot and didn't see the safety," Wyche said. "When there's two deep safeties, the hole in the middle is the place you can throw it, and when he let it go, he left too much air under it and that hole closed. That was unfortunate, because it was 21-14 and we still had plenty of time."
Testaverde, who completed 16 of 32 passes for 171 yards and was intercepted twice, indicated that Cobb might have run the wrong route.
"I threw the ball good, there was no question about that," Testaverde said. "He just wasn't where I thought he was going to be. We're still new at this offense and making mistakes. Obviously a lot of mistakes are showing up at my end. I'm not going to say that Reggie was out of position, but that's not where I thought he was going to be. I'm not pointing fingers. That's going to happen when you're putting in a new offense."
A big finger of blame might be pointed at the Bucs' defense. They allowed the Bears to control the football for nearly 14 minutes in the first quarter, and the Bucs were outgained 159 yards to 2 yards to start the game. Behind the passing of Harbaugh, the Bears went 85 yards and 74 yards for touchdowns to lead 14-0, with fullback Brad Muster scoring on a 1-yard run and a 1-yard touchdown pass. "The first drive set the tone for the game, if you don't turn around and do something about it," Wyche said. "We had to control the ball a little bit and didn't do it. The thing you have to do as a coach is make sure the team doesn't concede the game at that point, because it's real easy to say this is the way the whole thing's going to go."
Harbaugh's biggest target was Tom Waddle, who led all receivers with three catches for 114 yards. In nearly every instance, Waddle beat Pollard for the big plays.
But Pollard atoned somewhat for his mistakes by intercepting a Harbaugh pass and returning it 75 yards to set up Cobb's touchdown in the fourth quarter that cut the lead to 21-14.
"It's enjoyable to win a game, need I say more?" said Bears coach Mike Ditka. "It was a struggle. They challenged us to throw the ball downfield. At one point, we threw four deep passes, and three of them were completed. That's something we have to do more of."
Something Tampa Bay has to do more of is give the ball to Cobb. Without him on the field, the Bucs' offense was lifeless Sunday. "Reggie played a beautiful ballgame," Wyche said. "He ran the ball well. Maintained his balance. The first guy wasn't taking him down. We were making a mistake at the wrong time, and they were creating the mistake for us to make. We're not good enough for them today. They were too much for us, that's for sure. The fans were behind us with their megaphones where we could hardly hear ourselves talk on the sideline. They were calling us every name in the book. They do have a vocabulary here in Chicago. But we sit right there and work our way back into it 21-14, and we were not good enough today to beat the Chicago Bears."
But Testaverde sounded like a man who still believes a little more therapy will make the Bucs better. "I don't believe this is the old Bucs," Testaverde said. "What we used to have is a lot of mistakes, lose to the Bears and everybody else. I really believe this is a different team, and hopefully we'll be able to prove that."
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1992