Clock likely ticking down on Bucs' season
Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times, published 1 November 1999

Eric Zeier earned a passing grade, but the Bucs miserably flunked. Nothing is more elementary than snapping the football, but Tampa Bay kept flunking the clock. Daylight saving or standard, they can't seem to manage. Tick-tock can be terminal. Delay penalties cost the Bucs a touchdown against Detroit, perhaps two. Certainly any hope of winning. Maybe any realistic chance of making the NFL playoffs. This is anything but a Rolex team. A semi-perplexing season just became mega-excruciating. Was that Eric's fault?

Sunday night proved plenty. It's anything but certain that Joe Montana or Johnny Unitas in their prime could've turned a bumbling Tampa Bay offense into a touchdown factory. There are multiple problems beyond the quarterback. Zeier had little chance. Trent Dilfer understands. He did a lot of admirable stuff, that balding No. 15 from Georgia. Throwing with acceptable accuracy. Hanging in courageously while so many around Zeier were crumbling, both physically and mentally.

When, at last, there came a nice little Zeier third-quarter flick to Warrick Dunn, reaching the end zone, pulling Tampa Bay within a touchdown of the Lions (or so it seemed), the uplift would be eradicated due to NFL electronics and Bucs breakdowns. Tony Dungy remains replay hexed. Never wins one. When the Bucs coach makes a challenge, he gets zip. But let a Tampa Bay opponent make the call and Tony has a far poorer video batting average than Susan Lucci. That one on the Zeier-Dunn deal incredibly reeked.

Because the Bucs would prove inept at getting off an extra-point kick after Warrick crossed the goal, Detroit was allowed enough time to think about it and issue a belated replay challenge. You just knew ... First, it became another Zebra In the Hood setback for Dungy. Dunn's knee touched the ground before he scored. Or so the referee decided. It would not have been reviewed except for that stupid PAT delay. After that, as if by Halloween script, the Bucs would fail to score, completely disintegrating, with Mike Alstott fumbling it away.

Zeier gets no worse than 1/11th of the blame. Dilfer didn't goof it up. Confusion is too frequent, too inexpiable. It also happened in the first half, when Tampa Bay faced third and 5 at Detroit's 20-yard line. Fat chance to find the end zone. Zeier called timeout. Fine. Be sure of your plans. But then, after the break, Tampa Bay muddled around and got flagged for a delay penalty. How dumb is that? That opportunity too went down in flames.

Pushed back to a third and 10, Bucs challenges multiplied. Breakdown became total. They wound up having a Martin Gramatica field goal blocked. Dilfer had to think, "Been there, suffered that."

For the Bucs, the game had October enormity. Having lost 8 of 9 on the NFC Central road, could Tampa Bay reaffirm its division manhood? We now know the answer. Make it 1 success in 10. Clock's still running on their slump. Oh, did I say clock?

How strange it had to feel for Dilfer. That first time, with 13:11 left in the opening quarter, watching from the bench, wearing a ballcap instead of a helmet, as Zeier led Tampa Bay's offense onto the field. First start he'd missed since Christmas Eve 1994. Zeier, when given even a sliver of a chance by his Bucs comrades, performed okay. Seldom missing open receivers. Throwing a nice deep ball to Jacquez Green. Hitting an 11-yard bullet to Reidel Anthony on a sideline curl. Managing a bit of scrambling, although that is not one of Eric's notable gift.

Tampa Bay's offensive line was too frequently poor at dealing with Detroit's rush. Dunn found a bit of night light for running plays, but Alstott fired a blank. Nothing was more nauseating that those nonsensical delay calls. Any whisper of a Bucs chance was strangled by their own ridiculous clock work. Anybody got the time?