Bucs Slip and Slide Away Upward
The Buccaneers whipped one of the NFL’s improving teams, New Orleans, with opportunistic defense and field goal kicker in the award-winning roles in the rain, cold and slop at Raymond James Stadium. A particularly interested fan was hoping Tampa has gotten this dreary day out of his forecast, since the Super Bowl is coming to the same site Feb. 1.

Reid Sigmon, the director of the Super Bowl ahead had to figure it was OK, rainy, dank, gloomy Sunday, for surely this normally great place in which we live surely could not have another such shoddy day for two months - could it? - for it is neither hurricane nor rain season. And, despite the lousy weather, well, the Bucs beat the Saints 23-20 with interceptions serving as the favored Tampa device.

Don’t know when these New Orleans athletes accustomed to dome play had such an experience, for it began to rain as the game began and returned time after time, either in gusty torrents, or straight down in big, quarter-sized drops. In no time the field repeatedly voted the most velvety in the NFL had puddles yards-wide. Long slides by those tackled, or blocked, were commonplace.

It has rained this way in the past on Tampa stadiums on the Bucs, once on Dec. 16. 1979 when the Bucs beat Kansas City 3-0 and John McKay’s team was on its way to an NFC title game. Torrents washed down the steps of old Tampa Stadium in that punting duel. It rained that way during another Coach McKay game, accompanied by lightning strikes.

I was with a sports authority official back then who was asked if he would delay the game for a bit, to which he retorted, “We do not postpone football games in the NFL because of the weather,” while the chosen minister beside him was about to bless us all, when a mighty bolt lit up the place and hit a light standard with a great clap, as the preacher began his prayer. He stopped, and said, “Amen,” adding later, “I had a lot more to say, but I did not think the Lord was listening.”

He double-stepped and was gone. The game was played later unblessed, as has come to be the way of things. But, forgive the stray, and return to this game of field goals, including the three difference makers by Tampa’s so-reliable Matt Bryant and two by New Orleans’ Garrett Hartley. Bryant hit on early kicks of 38 and 27 yards and then the one he had to hit of 36 in the final minutes of the tense game. It was a place-kicker’s game, the rainy one Sunday which shoved the Bucs’ record to a proud 9-3 standard.

No, no, this does not cinch anything. The Bucs now are now tied with Carolina for the NFC South lead and face the Panthers in Charlotte at 8:30 next Monday night, a national television event. Presumably, Carolina is surely the TV draw. It does indeed seem worth suggesting that the Buccaneers are not favorites of heavy-hitters in the big-time media. Beat Carolina on television and that will force the issue, if there is one.

A reason for the oversight, as some of us locals see it, is that the Bucs are really starless. Oh, linebacker Derrick Brooks is one, and so is Ronde Barber, but they are on defense and past prime, some will say, though both have shots at the Pro Hall of Fame, as does retired safety John Lynch.

Fullback Mike Alstott was a national favorite of TV star-maker Chris Berman and Warrick Dunn ought to be, but his small size works against him. Yet, the wonderful Warrick is forced by Buc injuries into a lead ball-carrier role and thus he can move into the forefront. He is so very good. And he keeps getting up and asking for more, and getting it.

Without Dunn, the Bucs do not beat New Orleans Sunday. What he needs is help, relief, a blocker-runner like Ernest Graham at his side and forefront. Dunn’s name was called out Sunday on offense as much as was quarterback Jeff Garcia’s and linebacker Barrett Ruud’s. Ruud has arrived. He is in the backer mold of Monte Kiffin. His No. 51 Sunday was all over the place, unslowed by the slime and mud. He’s 6-2 and 240, and gives no ground.

Then, out of all this rose quarterback Garcia. He led the field in yards gained by running. He pulls the ball down and goes when he sees an opening. Also, and better, he has an eye for his teammates — his pass-receiving eligible teammates. He can throw and lob the ball like a balloon, can fire it like a dart, can shovel it, can handle it on a wet field, we all now know.

Much of the time he does not look like a Pro Bowler. More often he plays like one. He did Sunday, much of the time, but not all. Jeff Garcia can look good in the same play he can look bad. No, most of the time Garcia looks better than bad. Square deal, isn’t it?

He on Sunday quarterbacked his Bucs to a win closer to the playoffs, a good deed in the 100th win of his coach, Jon Gruden, who appreciates him.

Tom McEwen, The Tampa Tribune 1 December 2008