Bucs' offense just along for the slide
Don't be surprised if the Bucs' defense gets a lawyer and sues its offensive counterpart for lack of support. The defense carried the team for the first seven games while the offense averaged 278 yards, 28th in the league. In Game 8 Sunday against Atlanta, the defense got the Bucs off to a good start with a touchdown on Warren Sapp's interception return.

But when the defense faltered later in the game, the offense was no help. "I'm sure they (the defense) are very disappointed we couldn't come through and rescue them this one time," quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "The offense will have a serious gut check this week to figure out why we can't help out the defense."

After the Falcons took a 24-21 lead with 7:18 left in the game, the Bucs' offense failed to get a first down on the ensuing series. Dilfer threw two incomplete passes (he was under pressure on both) and Errict Rhett's run up the middle went for 2 yards.

The Bucs' defense did its job on the next series to get the offense the ball back with 2:58 remaining. The offense gained 14 yards for one first down and then stalled, with Dilfer throwing four consecutive incompletions. "Most definitely we have to do more," said wide receiver Horace Copeland, who had one catch for 23 yards. "Defensively, I tip my hat off. They show up every week. Offensively, we have to carry our load, and pick up our side and make it a lot easier for the defense. We have the weapons. We have to start clicking and living up to our potential."

The Bucs' running game was better than last week's poor effort of 44 yards on 23 carries against Minnesota. Against the Falcons, Rhett saw some bigger holes and ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. "We were seeing a lot of eight-man fronts," tackle Scott Dill said. "They (the Falcons) were a little more open. That helped us run the ball."

But while there was improvement this week, Dilfer said, "88 yards rushing - I don't think that will cut it."

Dilfer also said longer runs are needed on first down so the team isn't faced with as many second-and-long situations. "We can have 120 yards, but if it takes 75 times to get that many it's not effective."

In the air, the Bucs were hoping to have a big day against the Falcons, who entered the game 30th in the league in pass defense, allowing an average of 230 passing yards. "They had some young DBs out there," said wide receiver Alvin Harper, who caught six passes for 72 yards. "I kind of felt like it was men amongst boys."

The boys won the battle. Dilfer completed only 50 percent of his passes (14 of 28) for 177 yards. Lawrence Dawsey was blanked, ending his streak of 50 consecutive games with at least one catch. "They did some things - blitzes and schemes that made it hard for us to get the ball downfield," Harper said. "They were not aggressive. They were as soft as everyone else. "We need to hurry up and explode. We can't let the defense go out there and make all the plays."

Cammy Clark, The St.Petersburg Times 1995