Brooks Must Score More TDs To Save Bucs
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 21 October 2002

Derrick Brooks needs to get more involved. He totally disappeared after scoring in the first quarter. Not a single touchdown. What's up with that? Look, the Bucs offense can't hold them forever. This is the type of performance the Bucs couldn't turn in. They were 5-1 and could afford to lose. But not this way. Not returning to Philadelphia, the scene of their crimes, to retrace their chalk outlines.

They lost to the Eagles like they lost to them the last two playoff seasons. The only difference is that there are nine games left instead of no games left. No, the season isn't over. But the illusion is. This offense will mean the death of this team's dream unless things get better.

The lasting snapshot of the 20-10 loss to the Eagles is team doctors holding Brad Johnson's X-rays up to the bathroom light in the Bucs dressing room as Johnson looked on. The X-rays revealed bruised ribs and no traces of pass protection. Johnson was sacked five times. It would have been more, but the Eagles kept slipping on their own saliva.

This was the game the Bucs had been smacking their lips for since the end of last season, and the season before last season. So, for the third consecutive time, they went to Philadelphia and the offense didn't score a touchdown. They couldn't block. They couldn't run. They couldn't throw. They couldn't catch. They played the type of game that got Tony Dungy fired.

After just its second play from scrimmage, the first of the annual Mike Alstott fumbles, the offense was on its heels. The offenders say they will get better. Jon Gruden paints the same picture. Brooks, in a hilarious tie for the Bucs touchdown lead with four, said, ``We win as a team, we lose as a team.''

The offense lost it. It's inexcusable. This defense, after going 13 magnificent quarters without giving up a touchdown, makes one mistake. Boom. It's over. It's 7-3 after a Simeon Rice sack and a Brooks fumble return for TD when Dexter Jackson doesn't get over to stop a 42-yard Donovan McNabb touchdown pass. The Eagles grabbed the lead they never lost. One play. Ballgame. It can't be like that again.

You knew the Bucs weren't coming back. Even before Keyshawn Johnson didn't catch the ball he should have caught for a touchdown or Xavier Gramatica missed wide left, you just knew it. And you knew it starts up front. The Bucs' offensive line can't run block. It can't pass protect. At least not enough to let this offense grow. Brad Johnson can't move fast enough to make up for that. Runners can't find daylight. Receivers don't have time to get open. Philadelphia pass rushers stacked the line, waiting for another helping of Brad's homemade ribs. There were Eagles who came up the middle clean. It didn't matter if Philly rushed eight or six or four. ``If we could block two of them it would be nice,'' center Jeff Christy said. The Bucs' dirty little secret isn't so secret anymore.

It's clear that Gruden's offense has a long way to go. On the other hand, the old staff just might have blamed the defense for letting down. You sense Gruden knows how bad it is, how unacceptable it is. You know he will tinker. Well, that's something. But this isn't Oakland, where he had two All-Pros up front, and a rollout quarterback and some reasonably deep threats at receiver. So he keeps two backs in, or two tight ends in and waits for the line to get better. He sacrifices receivers and play options. Still, you can't always play scared. ``You have to make some adjustments,'' Gruden said, ``but at the same time you can't lock your doors and hide all day.''

Bad vibes once again have crept in through the Bucs' window of opportunity. Who can stop feeling that unless this offense keeps the other side honest, title hopes will turn to familiar lies? The fourth quarter was ominous. After Brad Johnson was forced from the game, Rob Johnson rode to the rescue on a three- legged horse. The Bucs trailed only 20-10. There was still time left. The Eagles helped with a personal foul. Then luck shined on the Bucs, as if they deserved it.

Michael Pittman - who? - fumbled inside the Philadelphia 5- yard line. But it was erased by a Bucs penalty for a false start. Saving yourself with a penalty. There's an offense. Of course, the Bucs followed with three incompletions. They didn't sniff the end zone. After that, Gramatica's short miss figured. It all figured. We've done the math in Philadelphia three times now. We know what has to be done. Derrick Brooks needs to do better inside the red zone. Or else.