Maybe quarterback Craig Erickson stumbled upon the solution to stop those pesky interceptions from costing the Bucs so dearly.
Why focus on three pickoffs that led to a touchdown and a field goal in the Washington Redskins' 23-17 win over Tampa Bay Sunday?
Did you see 233-pound linebacker Curt Go-Go-Gouveia lumber 59 yards with an interception for a game-clinching touchdown with the rest of the Bucs in lukewarm pursuit?
"More frustrating than the interception was the fact we didn't tackle the guy. We let him return it for a touchdown," Erickson said.
Erickson is right.
If he's going to keep throwing interceptions, the offense is going to have to learn to tackle better.
It got plenty of practice at Tampa Stadium Sunday in what was supposed to be the turnaround game for Tampa Bay, which was a 2 1/2-point favorite. Instead, the Bucs (3-9) rose and sunk to new highs and lows against the Redskins (3-9), who got their first road win in seven tries.
Even Bucs coach Sam Wyche, who cut off his post-game news conference after five questions, showed signs of cracking under the pressure of Tampa Bay's 11th straight losing season (his second). He ordered assistant coach and former Bucs linebacker Richard Wood off the field during the second quarter for failing to keep the players several yards behind the sideline. Wood refused to leave during the middle of the game but offered not to return to the field after halftime. He watched the remainder of the contest in the coaches' box. Wyche declined to comment on the incident.
By rights, Wyche may have had a better reason to ask Erickson to leave.After going nearly 10 quarters and 85 consecutive passing attempts without an interception, Erickson was picked off by Pro Bowl cornerback Darrell Green on a pass intended for tight end Ron Hall. The play set up Chip Lohmiller's 51-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to give the Redskins a 10-0 lead.
The Bucs defense, which held Washington to 243 total yards and limited quarterback Rich Gannon to 71 yards passing, compounded the mistake with its only bad play of the game.
On the first snap of the second half, running back Reggie Brooks swept left and cut downfield for a 78-yard touchdown run - the longest ever against the Bucs - to pad the Redskins' lead to 17-0.
Not surprisingly, the Bucs' defense reached the end zone before Erickson and company.
Defensive tackle Santana Dotson batted a Gannon pass, which was bobbled and caught by defensive end Ray Seals in the end zone.
Combined with Michael Husted's 31-yard field goal on the Bucs' first drive of the second half, Tampa Bay got back in the game at 17-10.
But the interception bug kept biting Erickson.
He tried to shoehorn a pass to Hall, but it was returned for the TD by Gouveia. And Green stole another pass from Erickson in the fourth quarter.
Erickson finished 15-of-34 for 163 yards, three INTs and a late touchdown pass to Courtney Hawkins that made the game appear close.
Erickson said he did not start pressing despite the poor throws.
"You just shake them off," Erickson said. "It does start to hit you, especially when it's a short pass and you're really not taking a big shot at throwing it (deep). The first one I threw on the
sideline - that wasn't a very smart throw. The other two were high percentage throws that guys made good plays on. I think I learned a valuable lesson on how to respect Pro Bowlers more than I did. I know Darrell Green was on the end of two of them I think I learned a valuable lesson, to give a Pro Bowler like himself a little more respect and maybe throw the other direction a few more times than I did."
It was a shame Erickson had to pass at all Sunday. With the Redskins' defensive line wiped out by injuries, the Bucs were able to rush for a season-high 144 yards behind Reggie Cobb, Vince Workman, Rudy Harris and Mazio Royster. Even discarded first-round pick Charles McRae, who had been limited to playing special teams, provided a spark at left guard in the second half. But penalties and Erickson's misfires kept the Bucs out of the end zone.
A 4-yard touchdown run by Royster early in the fourth quarter would have left the Bucs needing another TD to win. But it was called back because of a holding penalty on guard Ian
Beckles. On fourth-and-goal, Erickson threw high to Hawkins, who was open in the end zone. "It's very disappointing because we were asked to run the ball and we ran it and did a good job," Erickson said. "When coach called to throw the ball, I didn't come through on my end. It's particularly tough on me. You have to hold up your end when you're called upon and I didn't do that today. Ten offensive points isn't going to get it every Sunday."
Wyche, who told his team not to expect any more consolation speeches after last week's loss at Green Bay, was curt with his post-game comments. "Everything I said in there (the locker room) is within the family," Wyche said. "There's certain times I think it should stay in there."
Rather than address the Bucs' slew of mistakes, Wyche saved his only criticism for the officiating crew. There were several disputed calls. Tampa Bay thought time expired before
Lohmiller's field-goal attempt on the final play of the first half. Earlier, Dotson appeared to have sacked Gannon, but he escaped with an illegal-pass penalty. "I'd hope that everyone in this room right here would ask the officials a lot of questions in this one," Wyche told reporters. "Every one of you are not doing your job if you don't have a full investigation of a lot of calls in this one. A lot of them."
But it was the interceptions that cost the Bucs Sunday. Maybe somebody will investigate that.
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1993