The time for Trent is gone
Patience has run out. For six seasons, through far too many Trent Dilfer puny throws and poor decisions, I have refused to give up on the idea of Tampa Bay muscling into Super Bowl contention with the quarterback from Fresno State. I have editorially pleaded, repeatedly, for critics to give Trent some fresh air. No more. I give up. All the Bucs have truly asked of Dilfer is to be efficiently mediocre. Defense is Tampa Bay's backbone. Trent was told, in effect, "Just don't beat us, No. 12, while making a key play now and then, and nobody from Bucs Country will expect you to be Joe Montana, John Elway or Brett Favre."

It's not going to work. Tony Dungy should bench Dilfer. For the good of his team. For the good of 65,000-plus patrons who spend maybe $4-million for each Sunday's entertainment at Raymond James Stadium. Perhaps even for the good of the head coach and his own professional stability. This is serious business. Tampa Bay survived 6-3 against Chicago Sunday despite a clunking passing game. Two field goals, nothing more. If the Bears were any good, one huge maneuver could've stolen the game. Bucs ... winning weird.

One play is frozen in Tampa Bay minds. If somebody were publishing an accurate book on Dilfer's pro career, this would be the cover photograph. Epitome of the quarterback's most punishing trait - touch trauma. Game was scoreless. First quarter. Tampa Bay could've grabbed the Bears by their furry throats. Mike Alstott was rolling, pounding to gains of 19, 9 and 11 on that drive. Bucs called a pass play. Running back Warrick Dunn looped left on a pattern. Chicago's only defender fell. Easy pickings. Dilfer was unaware of safety Tony Parrish's tumble. "It was a timing pass," he said.

Nonetheless, facts were, Dunn suddenly found himself as alone as an Arctic Ocean lighthouse operator. So open. Elementary pass. Simple touchdown. Trent terribly overthrew Warrick. Paul Gruber, or even Malcolm Glazer, could've completed that pass. Dunn was that open. Demanding the simplest kind of 10-yard flip. Dilfer threw it so high that Wilt Chamberlain could not have snared it in his 7-foot-1 prime.

Always, there have been gripes about Trent's poor touch on little passes like that. This one especially reeked. Ray Jay was quickly plunged into a bad mood. From there, every Dilfer mishap triggered thundering boos. There were four or five others that angered the house. Dilfer was asked for self-evaluation. Trent doesn't believe he has played poorly "since a horrible 10-play stretch against the Giants" in the season opener. Dilfer said that Sunday. I couldn't find a soul who agreed.

If there's a change. ... Eric Zeier is not a no-risk solution, but the Bucs absolutely should try somebody else. Now. Before the season goes sour. Tampa Bay badly needs to win in Detroit, then in New Orleans. I mean, if something better than a 7- 9 or 8-8 record is in its plans. In another year or so, with a bit more NFL prep, the best QB hope could be Shaun King.

Dungy will consider making a quarterback switch. That's fact, not me making a guess. It will be a process over the next two days. While reviewing videotapes. While discussions evolve among Tony and his offensive assistants. Dungy told me that Sunday, just before heading home, dissatisfied with the point shortage, but musing "a win is a win." "I'm not saying I will make a change," Dungy told the Times. "I will do what I'm convinced gives us the best chance to go to Detroit and win next Sunday. We can't depend on two field goals carrying us again. Maybe the adjustments will be about style. Or maybe it'll involve personnel moves, including with the quarterback. We'll see."

Dungy has no appetite for bouncing back and forth between QBs. "If a change is made, you should look at it as being permanent," he said. "Minnesota made a tough call, putting Randall Cunningham on the sideline and using Jeff George. I think that's the way the Vikings will go for the rest of this year."

Here's what I think Tony was trying to get across, without making an open Sunday declaration: If he decides to bench Dilfer against the Lions, it most likely would mean the end of Trent's journey with the Bucs. His contract being up for renewal, or not, after this season. As the Bears threatened to swipe the game, I wondered how Tampa Bay's defense might react if its strong work went for nil, due to a pathetic lack of production by the offense. Just what might John Lynch, Hardy Nickerson, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp say?

"I don't agree that the defense would be the most frustrated group," Dungy said. "It would've been our offense showing the extreme dissatisfaction, if Chicago had won. They're truly feeling the pain, as a group, of not generating more touchdowns. Right now, we've got a 3-3 record, having kind of muddled through the season so far. We've got to score more or our hopes will be in real jeopardy."

Make the move, Tony.

Hubert Mizell , The St.Petersburg Times 1999