Bucs give it up
The Metrodome is a nice place if you've been buried by a record blizzard - unless you're the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Only they could make things snowball indoors.
Outside temperatures turned the Twin Cities into the world's biggest side-by-side freezer, but it was warm enough inside for Tampa Bay to make turnovers. A flurry of three interceptions and two fumbles helped erase a brief lead in the second half Sunday, and the Bucs lost 28-13 to the Minnesota Vikings.
It was the 11th consecutive road loss for Tampa Bay (1-8) and one that guaranteed the franchise's ninth consecutive non-winning season. "If we had fewer turnovers and mistakes, maybe we can do what's been foreign around here lately," Bucs tackle Rob Taylor said. "And that's win a game."
The loss spoiled a respectable rushing performance by second-year pro Reggie Cobb, who ran for a career-high 93 yards on 21 carries. But Cobb also mishandled a third-quarter pass that was intercepted by Vikings linebacker Mike Merriweather and returned for a touchdown. A 6-0 Bucs lead became a 14-6 deficit in less than a minute.
"We were very charitable today," Bucs coach Richard Williamson said. "Sometimes it doesn't make a difference how hard you play or what you do. When those kind of things happen, you're in deep trouble. The only thing you can do now is reach down to your bootstraps and pull them up tight. Pull them up and keep going."
Hard-strapped to make a play was Vinny Testaverde, who made his first start at quarterback in nearly a month. At one point, Testaverde was 5-of-16 for 64 yards and three interceptions. He rallied to finish with slightly better numbers: 10-of-22, 124 yards and a touchdown. Long after the outcome was settled, Testaverde threw a 1-yard pass to tight end Jesse Anderson to break a streak of eight quarters without a touchdown.
But overall, Testaverde got the Bucs' offense back to where it used to be - anywhere but in the end zone. He killed Tampa Bay's first drive trying to shoehorn a ball into Mark Carrier on third-and-6 from the Vikings' 16. The pass was intercepted by Felix Wright to end a 12-play march. His second interception came when Vikings safety Joey Browner stepped in front of a pass lofted for Willie Drewrey.
Testaverde said he felt a bit rusty. "I thought I played okay, but I made some mistakes," Testaverde said. "The first interception I threw, I thought Mark came wide open, but there was a guy hiding back there and I didn't see him. That's going to happen from time to time, especially when you've been out four or five weeks and you're back in the pocket trying to get a feel for things. I think myself, the longer I stay in there, the better off I'll be."
If Testaverde accomplished anything Sunday, it was to prove he still can move the Bucs up and down the field but doesn't have a clue how to get them in the end zone. "We always moved the ball," Testaverde said. "That was the big thing with us. We moved it between the 20s and couldn't get it in the end zone. Then a few weeks later, they were saying we couldn't move the ball at all after I was out. Now it's back to moving the ball, but not winning and scoring."
Apparently, that was enough for Williamson, who said Testaverde will start next week's home game against the Detroit Lions. "I thought he did well," Williamson said. "I thought he knew what we were trying to do. He made some checks, made some audibles. He did some good things."
Unfortunately, it was the Bucs' mistakes on offense that led directly to a pair of Vikings touchdowns. To that point, Minnesota appeared ripe for an upset. Trying to dig themselves out from a 4-5 start, the Vikings started poorly, with kicker Fuad Reveiz missing field goals of 51 and 46 yards.
But two plays after running back Terry Allen put the Vikings on top 7-6 with a 15-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Merriweather gathered the pass tipped by Cobb and lumbered 22 yards for another score. Allen, who finished with 127 yards on 14 carries, got most of it on a 55-yard run to pad the Vikings' lead to 21-6 early in the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Gary Anderson fumbled the boot at his 6-yard line. It was the fifth turnover of the game for the Bucs, who have committed 26 of them in the past five games. That set up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Rich Gannon to tight end Steve Jordan. "I think the concentration factor would have to be the big thing," Williamson said. "You obviously don't concentrate on looking at the ball and doing things with the ball you have to do. That's the main reason for laying the ball on the ground at times. You got to concentrate on the ball because the ball is precious in this game."
So are victories, but those have been hard to come by for the Bucs under Williamson. "I don't know what else you do except work at it," Williamson said. "Tomorrow the sun is going to come up and we're going to have to play whoever the hell it is we play this week, and we have to get ready to play them just like you do anybody else. We had a touchdown pass dropped. That could've been a big difference. We had one bobbled up in the air that gave them a touchdown. Those things happen in their favor. They could've happened in our favor if we'd done the things we're supposed to do. Then we come right back and fumble a kickoff. Jeez. I mean, all of a sudden, it snowballs."
Even in the Metrodome.
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1991