Jump-started offense lags fast-lane
Don Banks, The St.Petersburg Times, published 15 November 1993

They have been bullied and bloodied and all too often have shown little willingness to fight back. So leave it to the Tampa Bay offense to stand up finally to the one team it couldn't possibly trade punches with. On a list of bad ideas, joining in a slugfest with the San Francisco 49ers ranks near the top. On certain Sundays, Tampa Bay's 21 points would have won a fair amount of football games. But on this one, it didn't even do half the job.

"That's not enough, not against the 49ers," said Bucs center Tony Mayberry after Tampa Bay's 45-21 defeat. "We've had no offense at all at times this season, so offensively we put on a better show. At least we moved the ball. But we owed it to our fans to do that, after last week (a 23-0 shutout at Detroit) and the loss at home to Green Bay (37-14). We had a decent day, a productive day against a good team. But we've got to build on it. If we go back into remission, it was for nothing."

In Tampa Bay's never-ending quest for offensive improvement, all things are relative. At times, improvement is going from horrible to merely inconsistent. Tampa Bay, at least, made that modest trek against the 49ers. Despite missing its two most recognizable offensive names to injury - running back Reggie Cobb and tackle Paul Gruber - the Bucs accomplished the following:

Their 18 first downs were a season high. The 49ers had 27. Tampa Bay's 7-of-12 (58 percent) third-down performance was also its best of 1993. Too bad the 49ers were 9-of-14 (64 percent) and converted eight of their first 10. The Bucs' average gain per play was a healthy 5.6 yards, their second-highest output of the season. If only San Francisco hadn't shown them up with that gaudy 6.7 average. Tampa Bay punted a season-low three times, two fewer than its previous best. The 49ers? They went the first three quarters without punting and finished with three.

"We had the confidence we could move the ball on them and we did," said Bucs tailback Vince Workman, who in replacing Cobb turned in his busiest day as a Buc (68 yards and a touchdown on six catches, 35 yards and another score on 10 carries). "But we stopped ourselves. My two fumbles, a couple of short third-and-1's that we didn't get. They're a good team and everything, but we basically stopped ourselves today."

Tampa Bay's 322 yards of offense paled next to San Francisco's 448. But more importantly, the Bucs' four turnovers were no match for the 49ers' zero turnovers. "They're playing offense on another level," Mayberry said of San Francisco's attack, rated No. 1 in the NFL in scoring. "That's everybody's goal, to match how the 49ers play offense. You give those guys an inch, they'll get a mile."

Entering Sunday, Tampa Bay's offense was working on five straight shutout quarters (it grew to six), was ranked dead last, and had scored a touchdown or less in half its eight games. By that standard, Sunday was a success. The Bucs, who have scored no more than 17 points in any loss, had just 41 points in their six defeats, compared with 58 points in their two victories.

"The thing is, 21 (points) was obviously below par on this day," said Bucs quarterback Craig Erickson, whose 17-of-27, 239-yard, two-touchdown performance was his second sharp outing in three weeks. "We should have put more points on the board. That's the gist of it. As a whole we need to do something different. We went up against a class organization and came up short."