Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio

CAN ANYONE PLAY THIS GAME?
Once again, the door was opened for the Buccaneers in the NFC wild-card race. And, once again, they stumbled in the foyer. Minnesota, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Detroit and St. Louis lost on Sunday. Had Tampa Bay won, it would be tied with Carolina and St. Louis for the second wild-card position. As it is, the Bucs are hanging on by their fingertips.

THROWING CAUTION - AND POSSESSION - TO THE WIND
If not for Brian Griese, the Bucs would not be in a position to worry about the playoffs. Even so, he has had an alarming number of silly interceptions lately. In his first 141 pass attempts, Griese threw one interception. He has eight in his last 132.

SAD, BUT TRUE
With the season literally running past, Dwight Smith stuck his arm out and stripped LaDainian Tomlinson of the ball in the fourth quarter. It should have been the type of play recalled long into the offseason. Instead, it already is fading from view.

OKAY, IT'S A CHEAP SHOT
The Colts, a Super Bowl contender, found room on the roster for a second kicker. The Bucs could not. Do you suppose the Bucs might have had a better shot at the onside kick with Martin Gramatica?

THE KID'S ALRIGHT
The front office's fetish for 30-something players should be cured by the play of Michael Clayton. With all the veterans in the huddle, it's the rookie who keeps coming through in big situations.

Five ways the Bucs might have kept Keenan McCardell
Spruce up the field by painting dollar signs next to yard markers.
In lieu of cash, should have offered him Todd Steussie.
Polygraphs for all front-office personnell
Make him look faster by signing a bunch of washed-up, old guys. (Okay, they did try that.)
Install an ATM in the end zone.

Five paths to doom

PENALTIES
It's starting to come into focus. The offensive line has played better because it cheats. It appears the Bucs cannot get through a game without a majority of its linemen being called for penalties.

DROPPED PASSES
It was as if the running backs were having a contest. Mike Alstott, Michael Pittman and Jameel Cook combined to drop five passes.

MISSED FIELD GOAL
Field goals of under 40 yards should be close to automatic. Yup, it's hard to believe watching this team. But the NFC average coming into the week was 90.6 percent. Bucs kickers are at 66.6 percent.

BLOWN COVERAGE
The 79-yard touchdown by Eric Parker was the longest against the Bucs in seven years, but it wasn't a shock. Tampa Bay's secondary has given up six passes of 40 yards or more in the past eight games.

RUNNING GAME
It shows up every so often (usually against a bad opponent) but the Bucs cannot run the ball consistently. They put too much pressure on the passing game, leading to too many sacks, interceptions and penalties.

Five final words
Can we talk next year?

John Romano The St.Petersburg Times 13 December 2004