The Bucs' offense really stinks up the joint this time
It stinks. If the Bucs offense were an airline, the FAA would ground it. Deeming it unfit for public use. Declaring it a disaster area. Ordering the Tampa Bay franchise to make serious repairs or cease charging fares. Am I being too negative?

Choose your own nasty adjective. Awful. Pathetic. Rotten. Inept. Anything softer is hardly applicable. Surely there are uglier terms that are apropos. Anybody have the latest edition of Flubbing Thesaurus?

After the crash of Sunday, how close has the Bucs offense come to hopeless? If these Tampa Bay football huskies were a Broadway play, this performance would've brought closure. All ticket monies refunded. Can't even score on Bourbon Street.

Getting strangled by the Saints! How low can 1998 go? Pewter turns especially putrid. In seven opportunities this season, Tampa Bay has achieved zero good offensive games. This one has an even more despicable odor. Let's face reality. New Orleans has a pretty lousy pro football team. After a shockingly fortunate September facade, going 3-0 to begin the season, the Saints began a predictable plunge. Dragged downward by their own inabilities.

New Orleans was a bullet train in search of the NFC West basement. Losing three straight, each time surrendering 30 or more points. Could a 3-0 record turn into 3-13? On defense, the Saints ranked as the NFL's third worst. Even crummier against passes, New Orleans was a bottom-wallowing 30th. Tampa Bay flubs a near-gimme.

If the Bucs offense had been anything better than ghastly, it could've become a Tampa Bay shooting gallery. A get-well afternoon. Restoring some confidence. Building hope. Saints were ready to be smacked, maybe by 20 or 30 points. A glass jaw the Bucs offense could not crack, much less shatter. On defense, the Bucs are plenty skilled to seriously chase a Super Bowl XXXIII dream. But, with Halloween approaching, the Bucs become even more of an offensive nightmare. Still no first-half touchdowns after 14 quarters and 210 minutes. A rocky horror show.

True, a week earlier the Bucs pulled out a fourth-quarter win against Carolina. Thanks almost exclusively to the defense, Tampa Bay was 3-3 and realistically thinking playoffs as the Bucs entered the Superdome. But look at them now.

There must be a stunning offensive turnaround in the season's remaining nine weeks if the Bucs are to rekindle themselves as any sort of post-season possibility. Next up is unbeaten Minnesota. If you can't handle the sagging Saints, how do you compete with the pulsating Vikings? Not being much of an X's and O's scientist, I'm not sure exactly what Tony Dungy can intelligently change. From the quarterback and offensive coordinator on down. But how can alterations not be tried? Excuses have become tired cliches. Sounding like little more than lip service.

Week after week, we hear from the coach that his Bucs "just have to work harder to get better." How many low-point, agonizing offensive weekends does it take to alarm even the NFL's king of patience? Tampa Bay's offense is not designed to dominate. Perhaps that is a problem. Settling for the mediocre. Master plan is, the Bucs get first-half leads and then use stout defense and a pounding running game to keep opponents at bay. Yeah, right.

That theory has zero chance to work with so few points being generated. Zero if we're talking the first half. Even the lowly Saints would go to recess with a lead. Are we terribly surprised?

How could anybody have been naive enough to think Tampa Bay's unsubsiding 1998 offensive inefficiencies, Sunday after sobering Sunday, would not eventually sabotage all delicious goals? Whatever it took against the substandard Saints, the Bucs delivered. Patrick Hape's fumble ruined a point-blank-range TD shot on Tampa Bay's first possession. A killer trend-setter. If the Bucs had scored there, they might have romped. They didn't. They didn't.

Flopperoos kept appearing. Whatever it took to fail. Trent Dilfer had his misfires. Mike Alstott, an "A-Train" that has become a low- impact local, could find no running daylight. Tony Mayberry got flagged for a hold. Zebras would contribute, apparently blowing the call on a Bert Emanuel touchdown catch. Still, with all their offensive ineptitudes, the Bucs would have a chance for Sunday rescue. Just like against the Panthers. "All through the game," quarterback Dilfer said, "I thought we would find a way to pull it out."

These were, after all, the Saints. Finally, a platinum possibility arose for the Bucs offense. Jacquez Green, a blurring rookie from Florida, went racing past a New Orleans defense that so often has been toasted. "A pass rusher got in my way a little, so I underthrew the football a bit," Dilfer said. "Even so, I thought that was the one." No enemy body was within 6 or 8 yards of Green.

Ample room for 'Quezzie to adjust. To make an elementary catch. Pulling the Bucs within at least 15 or 20 yards of pulling out another win. Despite all their offensive bumbles. Just a clutch catch, like Green always seemed to do for his collegiate Gators. Of course he botched it.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1998