Bucs Are Now Relegated To The Discount Rack
So, how was the mall Sunday? We heard Macy's had clearance prices on used secondaries. Or did you just take your dog for a walk, say, midway through the third quarter when it was obvious the Bucs weren't up to the task, yet again, in this increasingly lost season?

You didn't miss much, but you already know that. Chances are you had a lot of company, out and about. Lots of folks were stampeding toward the Raymond James Stadium exits with more than 12 minutes to play. By the end of New Orleans' 31-14 victory, Ray-Jay looked like Tropicana Field with the Royals in town on a Tuesday night in July. "I make only one apology today and that's to our fans. I apologize to them, every one of them," Jon Gruden said. "I deserve all the criticism I can take."

Duty demands that we sift through the wreckage yet again, even though the Bucs are 2-6 and on the clock for the NFL draft next spring. We promise this won't take long. At this point we're basically repeating stuff we've said every week anyway.

We'll start with four New Orleans touchdowns that gave new meaning to the phrase "ridiculously easy." The Bucs defense has never looked older or slower than it did on this day. Drew Brees is a good quarterback, but he's not 24-for-32, 314 yards, three touchdowns good. But why stop there?

Phillip Buchanon is supposed to be a fast guy, but he might want to be a little slower with the whole hand-raising thing on punt returns. It's hard to break a big play on special teams when your punt returner has his hand up for a fair catch when the closest tackler is about 10 yards away. And who could forget the sight of Simeon Rice - 6-foot-5, 268 pounds - about 30 yards downfield in pass coverage on one of the Saints' many big pass plays.

Remember what Gruden said a few paragraphs ago: "I deserve all the criticism I can take."

Yes, he does. He has done a poor job for most of the season and it didn't get any better against the Saints. The numbers don't lie. Through eight games - half a season - the Bucs have one (one!) offensive touchdown in the first quarter. And, ahem, it didn't come Sunday.

The Bucs opened the game with six consecutive three-and-out drives. They trailed 17-0 before they got their initial first down with less than five minutes left in the first half. Look, we know that Chris Simms got hurt and they've had to make do with a rookie quarterback, but Gruden's offensive game plans have been downright curious for a while now.

The debacle last week in the gale at the Meadowlands was bad enough, but how do you explain a game in which Michael Clayton had more carries (one) than Mike Alstott has had in a month? "Right now, we are not the juggernaut offensively that I think we want to be or we're going to be," Gruden said.

Not a juggernaut? Not a juggernaut? Yeah, and all that water in Johnstown wasn't a flood, just an overflowing sink in Nanty Glo.

Look, this team is a mess. They're two plays from being 0-8. A bogus roughing-the-passer penalty against the Bengals set up the winning points there, and Matt Bryant's 62-yard kick from the gods was the margin against Philly. They are 0-4 in division and they have three losses at home. And the schedule only gets harder.

There's a bad moon rising at One Buc Bunker. You don't finish a season the way the Bucs likely will without major fallout. No player will be safe. No coach will be safe. No executive will be safe. No one should be.

Gruden stressed that the Bucs are very young, but a look at the defensive side of the ball contradicts that notion. They have a lot of money and a lot of years invested in a defense that no longer seems up to the task. "It seems like we're fighting uphill every game," a weary Derrick Brooks said after this one, and that's as apropos a metaphor as there is to this point.

Good teams don't make this many mistakes. Good teams don't make Drew Brees look like Joe Montana in his prime. Good teams don't drive the paying customers to the parking lots with almost a quarter still to play.

But the Bucs do. The malls, at least, appreciate it.

Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune 6 November 2006