Bombs away on Bucs
Every time they took a swipe at the football Sunday, members of the Bucs' beleaguered secondary seemed to come up empty-handed.
Afterward, the pattern continued. In the shell-shocked quiet of the Tampa Bay locker room, one defensive back after another failed to lay a finger on the problem, or even deflect the blame. "It seems like we've just stepped back and stopped making plays," said Bucs cornerback Milton Mack, burned for the opening touchdown in a Detroit victory built around the bomb. "Nobody wants to get their hand stuck in the cookie jar. Nobody wants to make a mistake. But you can't play this game like that. That's when you get hurt."
In Detroit's first 10 snaps, the Lions launched a quick-strike attack that netted 174 yards, nearly half of their ultimate 400-yard total. Included in that were completions of 35, 29, 63 and 24 yards. The 29- and 63-yarders went for touchdowns and a 14-0 lead, and the 24-yarder helped set up another Lions score early in the second quarter.
Three possessions, three touchdowns, and a three-game Bucs losing streak all but assured.
Talk about your missiles of October.
"All I can say is we didn't play well. It's embarrassing," Bucs defensive coordinator Floyd Peters said. "It's a habit they've got to learn how to (break). It started in the second half of the Colts game. If things don't go right, you don't fold your tent; you've got to fight. They've got to be able to bat a ball away every now and then. They've got to make a play on a ball. And some of those hand grenades that have been floating around up there should be intercepted, too. Some of them look like punts rather than passes."
Detroit entered Sunday's game averaging 218 yards passing per game, but Lions quarterback Rodney Peete had 151 of his eventual 208 yards in the first quarter alone. Peters, and Bucs fans, have seen it all before. Last week in a loss to Chicago, Tampa Bay's secondary surrendered Jim Harbaugh's season-high 304-yard day - a performance that included an 83-yard bomb to Bears receiver Anthony Morgan. In the Bucs' previous game, Indianapolis' Jeff George got hot, rallying the Colts to victory on the strength of a 177-yard, two-touchdown second half.
"What's happening to us right now is people are going vertically up the field," said Bucs secondary coach Steve Shafer, in classic understatement. "They're making plays and we're not. It's a one-on-one game when you play in the secondary. It's a basketball game and they're going to the hoop. And they're getting two points."
Make that six. Wasting no time on trickery, Detroit made its intentions clear from the start. Coming out in their four-receiver formation with a first down at their 19, the Lions picked on Bucs rookie cornerback Rogerick Green immediately when Peete found Herman Moore down the left sideline for 35 yards. Green, a fifth-round pick out of Kansas State, was starting his first NFL game after being activated from injured reserve Saturday.
Four plays later, Peete ended Detroit's first drive by zeroing in on Mack's corner, beating the Plan B acquisition on a 29-yard, third-and-12 post pattern to Lions receiver Willie Green.
Things got worse for the Bucs. Facing a third and 2 from his 37 on Detroit's next possession, Peete found Moore again, for a 63-yard touchdown that had something for everyone.
Coming back to the badly underthrown ball, Moore beat the fallen Green at the Bucs 35, warded off the clutches of safety Darrell Fullington for at least 15 yards, survived a second shot from Green, then celebrated the last five yards before absorbing a final blow from cornerback Ricky Reynolds.
"The sad thing was, the (play) where (Moore) had people climbing all over him and he celebrated before he even got into the end zone, he was doubled on that one," Peters said. "When a guy's doubled, you ought to be able to take him out of the ballgame. He shouldn't even catch the ball. But no coverage is going to work if you don't get pressure. So you start with (us having) no sacks. Early in the year, (we) were getting the pressure. We didn't cover anybody step-for-step and we didn't put any pressure on them."
Pressure, Reynolds admits, is what the Bucs secondary is starting to feel. As the bombs keep falling, Tampa Bay cornerbacks are growing hesitant and unwilling to gamble.
"It can happen with corners," Reynolds said. "You get beat a couple times, you can get a little cautious and lay back. We're just going to have to see if we've got the guts to bounce back and not let the season wash away."
Don Banks, The St.Petersburg Times 1992