Give Gramatica The Boot Or Trust Him To Kick
Gramatica-atica-atica! Start the cell block riot. On a day the Bucs missed their big chance, the biggest miss was a chance they didn't take. They worked too hard to get back into this season and this game, and the defense played too well to get within eyeballing distance of Michael Vick and Uncle Rich's McFalcons, to not let Martin Gramatica try a tying field goal. Otherwise, why is he here?

Gramatica was taking the field for a 46-yard attempt when Jon Gruden had a confidence attack. Yeah, the wind was swirling something fierce inside the Georgia Dome. So the Bucs went for it on fourth-and-1 from Atlanta's 28. Trailing only 17-14. With more than 10 minutes left in the game. Fourth and dumb. They ran a toss right. Toss wrong.

Of course, Michael Pittman was stuffed for a loss. Of course, the McFalcons scored a long touchdown about three seconds later and that was the game, the division and probably the season. Gruden deserves a swift kick. Like it or not, the guy's your kicker. Use him or lose him.

His players didn't deliver. Still ... ``If you feel like going for it on fourth down there, we must be in desperation time,'' Dwight Smith said. ``We're down three. So I guess people must have thought it was desperation time.''

That's the message it sent. Panica. Desperatica. ``I was a little shocked,'' Ronde Barber said.

It's not the only reason the Bucs left Atlanta 3-6 instead of 4-5. But it's one of them. Mind you, this isn't a Gramatica testimonial. He has gone from automatica to problematica. Once he was a happy little thing jumping for joy after a big kick, the jumping for joy being the hard part (ask brother Bill). That's been over for a while.

Gramatica the dark cloud has missed 15 times across the past two seasons, going just 4-for-13 from 40-49 yards. Last week against Kansas City, he missed from, uh, 46 yards. But here's the kicker: He's your kicker.

Making 46-yard field goals is why NFL kickers get paid. At least they're supposed to try. Otherwise don't pay them. Or keep them. Gramatica shouldn't have been on the plane to Atlanta if Gruden wasn't willing to trot him out. Gruden liked the call on fourth- and-1. Said he would do it again. Said this, too: ``It's a 46-yard field goal. There are no guarantees.''

As if a touchdown was a lock if they made it on fourth-and-1. Maybe this is a good idea from the 5-yard line and in. Not from the 28. But what do we know?

Well, we know a comeback in this game could have made a season. We know the Bucs fell behind 17-0. That the defense then held Michael Vick and the Falcons without a first down for nearly two quarters. Amazing. Suddenly it was 17-14. You sensed tying it would have sustained momentum. Ah, momentum. Gruden called Gramatica's two misses in the loss at St. Louis ``momentum killers.'' So was not even letting him try.

Gruden can say he has confidence in Gramatica and that Gramatica has been injured. Truth is, Gruden doesn't trust him anymore. ``I was ready to go,'' Gramatica said. ``It was just a coach's decision.''

You can't blame Gruden for not having confidence in Gramatica. Judging by his kicks, Gramatica doesn't have confidence in Gramatica. But this wasn't the time to shelve him. Why else is he here? Use him or lose him.

This will come up again. Field goals have a funny way of factoring into NFL outcomes. Either give Gramatica the boot or let him kick. Otherwise the smallest Buc is a big story in a doomed season. Sunday showed he's already way past being a footnote.

Martin Fennelly The Tampa Tribune 15 November 2004