Losing Their Grip
Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune, published 30 October 2006

There are some losses that, for whatever reason, you simply can flush out of your mind and forget about. This wasn't one of them. This 17-3 setback figures to linger for a while. That's what happens when you drop a game the way the Bucs did Sunday, when so much seemed to be working in their favor.

Start with the Giants, who went into the game already missing three starters from their 21st-ranked defense, then lost another (linebacker Brandon Short) shortly after the opening kickoff. Despite a situation that seemed to favor their offense, the Bucs gained just 9 yards on their first 16 plays and 174 overall.

The Bucs, of course, forever will blame those numbers on the incessant 40-plus-mph wind gusts they had to deal with. But when you've got a running back like Cadillac Williams, wind gusts of that nature tend to blow in your favor. The Bucs, though, chose to fight the wind. Instead of leaning on the running attack that the elements seemed to beg for, the Bucs instead chose to have their rookie quarterback throw the ball 48 times.

Saying that the winds made it "hard to do anything with the football other than hand it off," Jon Gruden admitted he adopted a risky strategy. In his mind, though, it was the only logical strategy. He said the fact the Bucs fell behind by two scores early factored heavily into his decision. So, too, did his strong belief that the Bucs receivers would find holes in the Giants defense.

What Gruden didn't factor in was the degree to which the wind would blow the ball around. Passes that might have hit their intended targets on a normal day were blown out of the receivers' range on this day. Nor did Gruden factor in the possibility of his receivers dropping the few passes rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski put into their hands.

Joey Galloway dropped two balls during one second-quarter series. Then, on the next series, the usually sure-handed Michael Clayton dropped a ball that likely would have resulted in a touchdown. "It was a big factor," Clayton said of the wind. "It was something we really couldn't adjust to. It was just a bad day all around."

It was for Clayton. When he finally did make his first catch, in the third quarter, he wound up fumbling it away after gaining a first down. The Giants didn't turn that takeaway into points, but the play epitomized the kind of day it was for the Bucs, who failed to capitalize on one opportunity after another. "What can I say?" Gruden asked rhetorically. "We had some opportunities to make it a one-score game as we headed into the fourth quarter and we weren't able to do it."

Field position played a role in that early on. While the Giants were regularly setting up near the 50, the Bucs started two of their first four drives inside their 10. During one stretch, though, the Bucs started drives at their 40, their 41 and their 48. But all they got out of that was three points. And even those didn't come easily.

Though they came at the end of a 13-play drive that was the Bucs' longest of the day, it was a drive that wouldn't have remained alive had the Giants not been called for a neutral-zone infraction on fourth-and-5 when Tampa Bay was lined up to punt. "We're just not putting it together on offense right now," said Williams, who ran the ball just eight times. "I mean, we had so many opportunities, we just couldn't take advantage of them."

It's been that way for a while. The Bucs have not scored an offensive touchdown in their past two games and in four of their seven games this season. "It's very frustrating," said Gradkowski, who completed 20 of 48 passes for 139 yards. "This was a good football team we faced but we had chances out there. But when you don't utilize your weapons and capitalize on chances, then you're going to lose to a good football team. We just left too many big plays out there."

The defense didn't leave too many big plays out there. That unit bounced back from a difficult outing a week ago against Philadelphia and consistently gave the offense opportunities to score. "That's the toughest part," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We had been making a little bit of a run there, winning the last two games. This was clearly a setback."