Bucs' lead tough to bear
Every decade or so, the Bucs get a 20-0 lead. They aren't quite sure how to act. After Sunday's first-half windfall, Sam Wyche called for an offensive gear shift, from "overdrive" to "low." Tampa Bay tried to hide, hoping Da Bears wouldn't find them. In any sport, from chess to pistol-dueling, what the Bucs coach did against Chicago indicates a serious shortage of confidence. Need we ask why?

Wyche's workers hadn't won for a month of Sundays. After a dreamy 3-1 September start, the Bucs were stumbling through a November nightmare at 3-6. Their two most recent Tampa Stadium gigs against Detroit and Minnesota had been lost by a combined 73-14.

So, upon Tampa Bay's sudden 20-0 grandeur, Boss Buc decided to "pull in my horns a little" in the second half. Trying to avoid the big mistake. Going conservative after Vinny Testaverde - bouncing back from the bench - had passed Chicago dizzy for 30 minutes.

Someday, if Wyche ever builds a legitimate reservoir of confidence in his Bucs, they'll keep on firing and try to turn 20-0 leads into 40-0. Seeking to bury, rather than to hide. But based on shabby Bucco history, Sammy worried - somewhat understandably - that interceptions might bring the Bears back from the halftime dead.

Conservatism would nearly kill. Tampa Bay turned down its offensive flame, from a first-half cauldron to a second-half flicker, trying to live almost entirely on Reggie Cobb smashing up the middle.

Cobb was terrific, making 114 he-man yards, but the Bears adjusted by bunching eight defenders close to the line. Through 27 minutes of the second half, the Bucs achieved zero first downs. Chicago hacked the Tampa Bay lead to 20-3, then 20-10 and finally 20-17.

With the sold-out ballpark in a roaring frenzy - 40,000 Bucs backers trying to outshout a remarkable Bears constituency of 30,000 - Cobb at last powered for Tampa Bay's only first down of the half with 2:56 left in the game. It'd become critical, maybe even desperate, for Sunday's erstwhile 20-0 dominators.

Tampa Bay's lone first down stalled the Bears just long enough, and forced Kevin Butler to kick from just far enough. Chicago's shot at overtime, a 44-yard field-goal attempt, fluttered wide left. Bucs conservatism survives.

Later in the gorgeously cool Sunday evening, Tampa Bay's winners boogied over to their One Buccaneer Place headquarters and had themselves a food-drink-laughter shindig. According to National Football League records, never before has a team with a 4-6 record had a victory party. The Bucs are, uh, different.

No wonder Wyche choked down the offensive throttle, worrying that Tampa Bay would kiss off that 20-0 lead. There was beer, chips and bean dip on the line. "Earlier in the week, " Testaverde said, "Sam said we were having a victory party after the Chicago game, so it would make it better if we won."

Testaverde, as every woman and man and astute Tampa Bay child knows, is in a make-it-or-goodbye Bucs season. Benched for two games before Sunday, the sixth-year pro earned at least an A-minus for Sunday's first half. But put Vinny down for an "incomplete" for the second semester. Wyche, for better or worse, worked at sitting on the 20-0 lead and all but turned Vinny's gun into a pea shooter. It worked out, barely.

"Vinny played well, except for one second-half mistake that led to an interception by the Bears," Wyche said. Oh, so that's what Sam was trying to avoid? "Vinny made a lot of big, big plays," the coach continued. "When we get our offense where we want it, with another receiver who's really a (speed) burner, and with more solidifying of the line, I think Testaverde can be a really top quarterback."

Jump to no conclusions. Wyche, Testaverde and Bucs vice president Richard McKay conferred during the past week regarding the QB's soon-to-expire contract. "A decision is yet to be made," McKay said. "We're not talking just another season, it's long-range stuff, for both the Bucs and for Vinny. Vinny too has to decide what he thinks is best for him."

Sunday didn't hurt Testaverde's case.

Hubert Mizell, The St.Petersburg Times 1992