Bucs face cold facts
There were no flurries, just hurries, when Vinny Testaverde threw three interceptions Sunday. To prove a point, he worked out a day earlier at freezing County Stadium in shorts and a T-shirt. "I was trying to show people it wasn't arctic temperatures here," Testaverde said. "If a wimpy quarterback can do it, anybody can do it."
Ice did not cling to the fingertips or run through the veins of rookie Courtney Hawkins when he fumbled away a punt with four minutes to go in the game. Sleet did not blanket the feet of kicker Eddie Murray when he missed field-goal tries of 47 and 42 yards on the same possession late in the fourth quarter. Don't ask whether the weather was a factor in the Bucs' 19-14 loss Sunday to the Green Bay Packers - because it wasn't.
Even though Tampa Bay has lost all 13 games it has played in temperatures below 40 degrees - and the mercury hovered around freezing Sunday - the Bucs were defeated again because they simply are the coldest team in the NFL in any climate. Tampa Bay turned the ball over five times and the Packers (6-6) used four field goals by Chris Jacke to win their third consecutive game.
Meanwhile, the Bucs (4-8) lost for the seventh time in the past eight games and were left wondering what might have to freeze over before they snap a string of 10 consecutive non-winning seasons. "Honestly, I'm just tired of saying the same thing over and over," Testaverde said. "It's tougher than any fan can think about or any reporter can write about. It's easy to sit here and say it's tough, but it really eats me up inside. It's a burning feeling. You want to do something about it, and right now we can't."
The Bucs had their chances to do something right against the Packers. Here was the same Green Bay team the Bucs thrashed 31-3 in the second week of the season. But from the outset, it was obvious the Packers were passing Tampa Bay on the NFL escalator - Green Bay headed up and the Bucs headed down.
The Packers held the ball for 32 minutes and lived up to their ranking as the league leader in time of possession. Quarterback Brett Favre was 26-of-41 for 223 yards and a touchdown. But rather than being devoured by giving up large chunks of turf, the Bucs' defense must have felt as if it was being eaten by a moth. Only four of Favre's completions went for longer than 9 yards, but the Packers had trouble putting the ball in the end zone.
Instead, Jacke was summoned to kick field goals of 34, 33, 29 and 48 yards to help Green Bay build a 12-7 third-quarter lead. "Overall, they're better," Sam Wyche said. "No. 1, their quarterback is playing beautifully. I think it took them a little while to get the theory of the short passing game that (coach) Mike Holmgren has brought them. It might not be as much fun at times because you're taking everything the defense gives you. But you're always affecting the defense. And that style of play will control the ball, which is their trademark right now."
The Bucs' trademark, running back Reggie Cobb, gained 53 of his 64 first-half yards in the first quarter. Cobb's running set up the Bucs' first touchdown - a 20-yard pass from Testaverde to Mark Carrier. But for some reason, Wyche did not call Cobb's number much in the second half and he finished with 94 yards on 20 carries.
"The first half we thought we overdid it," Wyche said. "We said we've got to mix it up a little bit. We can't just keep pounding it in there because we're ruining a good thing and we want to keep that good thing going."
That good thing ripped off gains of 14 and 7 yards on his final two carries of the game - the first for a first down at the Packers' 21 with Tampa Bay trailing 19-14.
But Testaverde, who had been pressured into scrambling runs from the pocket on his previous two passing plays, was sacked on the next play and the Bucs were forced to try a 47-yard field goal that sailed wide right.
Murray got another chance when the Packers were offsides, but the snap by center Ed Brady was low and Murray's 42-yard attempt fell short.
"I wish we would've run the ball a little more in the second half because we ran it so well in the first half," Testaverde said. "But we're also making big passing plays."
In fact, Testaverde's 15-yard touchdown pass to rookie fullback Anthony McDowell gave the Bucs a 14-12 lead with 2:12 left in the third quarter. But the Packers drove 69 yards in 15 plays and Favre hit tight end Jackie Harris with a 9-yard pass in the end zone for the winning touchdown with 10:09 left.
"I called a play, but (Favre) wanted to try the play-action to Jackie. He was confident it would work, so I told him to go with it," Holmgren said.
Hawkins' fumble of a punt that would've given the Bucs another life at their 38 with 4:03 left sounded the death knell for Tampa Bay. The play was somewhat reminiscent of Hawkins' dropped fourth-down pass in New Orleans that would've given Tampa Bay a first down at midfield but ended their comeback in a 23-21 loss to the Saints. "I was charging and I guess I misjudged it," Hawkins said. "It bounced right into their hands. It cost us two minutes. That was the biggest thing. It changed the game plan for the rest of the game and made us go into the hurry-up mode. Otherwise, we'd have had close to four minutes to try and win the game."
Testaverde got the ball back two minutes later and completed a pass to Carrier at midfield. But he was chased from the pocket and hung a floater two plays later that was intercepted by cornerback Roland Mitchell. "I tried to be the first person to meet (Hawkins) coming off the field because we've all been through those situations," Carrier said. "Look at me. In the first half, I tried to stretch out for the first down and I fumbled the ball. You don't want those things to happen, but they happen. By no means did that one play or (Hawkins') play or Vinny's interception lose the ballgame. We just didn't move the ball when we had opportunities."
Wyche credited his team with fighting the hard fight but offered no excuses. Even the weather made a lousy alibi.
"It's a long way to go," Wyche said. "We've got a lot of things that need to be improved before we're going to be winning as a result of that hard fight."
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1992