Wyche rubs it in
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 29 November 1993

He was going to make sure the Tampa Bay Bucs died one more slow death Sunday before they left Lambeau Field. He stood in the middle of the locker room, his players circled him still dressed in full uniform. Men who tortured themselves and refused to remove a stitch of tape, as if to keep all the hurt bandaged up inside a little longer. He chose his words carefully, as if they were plays, executing the game plan flawlessly.

All week long, he had been reminded that the Bucs freeze up in the cold. That they are road kill away from home. That they were huge underdogs. Sam Wyche glared at the team that can't win back-to-back and went face-to-face. He kept them there for 20 minutes following the 13-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers on a last-minute, third-down touchdown pass from quarterback Brett Favre to Sterling Sharpe. He screamed a lot. He recounted the mistakes. He said playing well wasn't enough, that nobody ever will respect the Bucs until they start winning. He said they have forgotten the most important thing: win the damn game.

"Everyone was disappointed and I think he wanted us to linger in here with that feeling," tackle Rob Taylor said. "To talk about it. To realize that we should've won it. That we can win. We could've won it. There's so much hope. I think he wanted to talk it out and say some things. Mostly, it was him talking. But it was very constructive, although he chewed us out a little bit. A lot of it was yelling at us and screaming at us, telling us some things we could've done that would've won it. He feels like we don't quite believe we can win. He knows we're good enough, but we don't know."

The Bucs were good, but not quite good enough to upset the Packers Sunday. For most of the game, both offenses looked like they were practicing a new dance step: One, two, three, kick. One, two, three, kick. The teams combined for 19 punts. But the Bucs erased a 6-3 deficit and took a 10-6 lead with 7:33 remaining by driving 63 yards in eight plays, capped by a 9-yard pass from quarterback Craig Erickson to Courtney Hawkins.

If ever a Bucs lead appeared safe, it was Sunday. Despite playing without two starting defensive linemen, Tampa Bay had held Green Bay to 174 total yards and two third-down conversions. Three times in the second half, the Packers started drives inside Tampa Bay territory and the Bucs' defense only allowed them one field goal. What's more, the irrepressible Sharpe had been held to two receptions.

Green Bay needed to go 75 yards for a touchdown or lose its chance to take over the lead in the NFC Central. For the Bucs, those 75 yards represented a possible turning point in the season - if not the franchise. "It was there for us to take and have a great 2 1/2-hour flight home," Bucs defensive end Santana Dotson said. "We just had to make the plays defensively that we'd been making all day and get off the field."

Favre, who struggled to pass for 80 yards before the drive, suddenly got hot. He completed 8 of 12 for 79 yards on the final march. All four incomplete passes were dropped. Suddenly, Favre rediscovered Sharpe, who caught two short passes and broke tackles for 15 and 7 yards. But the killer came with the Packers facing second-and-20 after a holding penalty at the Tampa Bay 45. Favre rolled right to buy some time and found receiver Mark Clayton for a 28-yard gain. "That's when we should've buried them," Bucs safety Jerry Gray said.

At the two-minute warning, the Packers had first-and-goal at the 7-yard line. But after hitting Reggie Brooks for a 4-yard gain, Favre scrambled for the end zone and was hammered out of bounds by Barney Bussey. Favre got up limping and was forced to call a timeout. "He's a tough guy and quarterbacks have to be the leader of the team," Gray said. "I think if Favre had gone out, they would've lost. Because the morale of the team kind of goes out. And he knew that. He knew he had to be back in the game for them to have a chance to win."

Favre hobbled back onto the field and used a play-action fake to freeze Gray, who was trying to double team Sharpe in the end zone. But Sharpe won the foot race and Favre delivered a perfect game-winning, 2-yard strike as Lambeau Field erupted. "Everyone in America knew where the ball was going," defensive coordinator Floyd Peters said. "We'd used that coverage four or five times and had pretty much taken him out of the game. This time we didn't make the play. He's a superior player, but you don't put two pros on a guy and have him make the winning catch."

"I take the blame for that," Gray said. "I took the fake, because you have to respect it at the 2-yard line. He ran underneath me and I should've made a play."

The Bucs had the opportunity to get in range for a winning field goal with 1:13 left. But Erickson, who was sabotaged Sunday by eight dropped passes, couldn't get them out of the hole. Two of his passes were dropped, he was sacked for an 8-yard loss, then fired incomplete on fourth down to Hawkins. Erickson finished with 12-of-35 passing for 144 yards. He was sacked three times and struggled to keep his footing on the soft turf. Because he sustained a career-threatening knee injury when his cleats dug into the turf while practicing for the Hula Bowl, Erickson refuses to wear anything but rubber spikes. "There's certain surfaces I think you have to wear them," Erickson said. "It's obviously a choice. I didn't have as much of a problem in the second half, so I didn't make the switch."

In the end, it didn't really matter. The Bucs seemed as if they were waiting to slip. "I remember thinking to myself going out for the second half that this could be the most important half in the eight years I've been here as far as getting this thing turned around," Taylor said. "We can't be excited about the loss. But this team is close to gelling."

Wyche was somber when he emerged from the locker room and revealed little about his speech. "One comment I made was sometimes the game in your mind makes a difference. When you say, `Okay, you can play with anybody in the league. In any stadium, in cold weather, at night, on the road and it doesn't matter.'