Loss follows the bouncing ball
Seven passes went through the hands of Bucs receivers Sunday. If that continues, the next thing that will drop is confidence. Closely followed by attendance. No dropped pass loomed larger in the Bucs' 9-3 loss to the Saints than the potential winning touchdown bomb that went through the hands of rookie receiver Jacquez Green at the New Orleans 25 with about five minutes remaining.

Green is an electrifying talent who gave the Bucs their best scoring chance by returning the first punt 55 yards. But he said he took his eye off the ball on the fourth-quarter play to look at safety Sammy Knight. "There were dropped balls on both sides of the game," Green said. "The Saints receivers dropped balls. Everybody in the NFL drops balls. It's just ours is magnified a little more because we don't throw the ball as much as most teams. We've just got to capitalize on our opportunities."

But New Orleans coach Mike Ditka did not forgive the Saints' dropped passes as easily. "If it was going to be an easy catch my goodness. I could get a guy out of Newman High School," Ditka said. "He'll come out and make the easy catch. This is the NFL. The hard catches are what you're paid to do."

Green's drop deflated what probably was the Bucs' last comeback hope. After the play, guard Frank Middleton pounded the turf with his fists. "You play with a lot of emotions," Middleton said. "When you think something is going to happen and it doesn't it's like thinking your check is going to be $500 and it's $250. It hurts. We thought we had seven, and we end up with nothing. When I saw it wasn't seven, it took a lot out of me."

Though the pass to Green might have won the game, it's unfair to suggest that play is responsible for the Bucs losing it. The biggest mistake by a Bucs receiver came after he made his only catch of the game. Tight end Patrick Hape fumbled at the New Orleans 3 after a 5-yard reception from quarterback Trent Dilfer during the opening possession. The play prevented the Bucs from scoring their first touchdown in the first half this season.

It also set the tone for another day of missed opportunities for the offense. "We needed that seven," Middleton said. "It's over. Then we get a fumble, and it's like, uh-oh. Back to the same old thing. If we could've scored one touchdown, we would've put it away."

Receiver Bert Emanuel said that not all dropped passes are a receiver's fault. "I think personally, you have to really analyze why a pass was dropped," he said. "It could be ball placement. You could be out of position. A defensive back could be hanging over your back. You really have to be careful and not point the finger directly at the receiver or at the quarterback. I think you have to be there. You have to say the guy is doing this, he's coming out of the break hard. Is the ball a little behind him? Or if the ball is on the money, you've got to catch it. If it's a little high and both guys jump up for it, there's a 50-50 chance. Personally, I don't believe if the ball touches your hands, you've got to catch it. Because I've been there. Both players share the responsibility."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1998