Bucs' third pick taken 30 yards for winning TD
As football teams go, the Bucs are one that can't be trusted. You get the feeling they lose the deposit money on the way to the bank, leave the cell phone on the hood of the car and lock themselves out of the house. They are careless with anything valuable, especially the football. It happened again in Sunday's 31-24 loss to the Chargers.

Brian Griese was intercepted three times and lost a fumble, leading to 10 points during the fourth quarter. With the score tied at 21, Griese's first-down pass to Michael Clayton was intercepted by linebacker Donnie Edwards, who returned it 30 yards for the go-ahead score with 4:09 left. On the third play of the next series, Griese was sacked and stripped of the football by Steve Foley. Shaun Phillips recovered at the Tampa Bay 28 to set up Nate Kaeding's 40-yard field goal. "It's the turnover battle. I don't think you need to look any further than that with this football team," Derrick Brooks said. "When we lose the turnover battle, we've got eight losses. When we've won it (or finished even), we've got five wins. To me, you don't look past those two factors because that's a direct correlation of what goes on in the game as far as the football team goes."

Brooks is right. In their five wins this season, the Bucs' turnover margin is plus-7. In their eight losses, it's minus-8. The defeat guaranteed the Bucs consecutive nonwinning seasons for the first time since 1995-96. But it did not slam the door on their playoff chances. Tampa Bay trails Carolina (6-7) and the Rams (6-7) by one game for the final wild-card berth, and it is one of six teams in the NFC at 5-8. Even so, Jon Gruden officially began talking about "next year."

"I realize there's three games left. Our playoff picture is bleak," Gruden said. "We're not dying. We don't have a terminal illness right now. We're going to keep playing. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we have a lot of character in that locker room. We're going to continue to fight through this season, see what we can get done and hopefully gain some momentum and hopefully catch a couple breaks and come back with a healthy, strong football team next year."

Griese went from hero to goat in about four minutes Sunday. He finished 36-of-50 for 392 yards and three touchdowns, two to Joey Galloway and another to Clayton. The Bucs rookie caught nine passes for 145 yards, including a juggling, one-handed grab of a 20-yard touchdown to tie the score at 21 with 6:53 left. The touchdown was set up when safety Dwight Smith stripped running back LaDainian Tomlinson of the ball and the fumble was recovered by defensive end Dewayne White at the San Diego 37. Simeon Rice sacked Drew Brees on the first play of the next series, helping to force San Diego to go three and out. All that was left was for Griese to move the Bucs into position for the winning field goal. But Edwards stepped in front of Clayton for the interception.

"I didn't see him, so I don't know where he came from," Griese said. "It's a situation where I'm working one side of the field, and when those two guys are not open, I progress to the other side of the field. And hopefully, the fact I'm looking one way looks him off of the other receivers. He just made a great play. I don't think you ask many teams around the league to throw the ball 50 times and think you're going to win. You get into situations when you get behind and you have to do that. But it's not the formula for success."

The Bucs have followed a formula for defeat this season, and it was on display again Sunday. A mix-up in the secondary led to the Chargers' first touchdown, a 79-yard pass from Brees to Eric Parker. "It was a play we've seen a lot. We just didn't play it well," Ronde Barber said. "Either me or Dwight (Smith) has got to be back in the hole. I think he caught it all the way on the other hash. If you want to call it miscommunication, it was a breakdown in the secondary between me and Dwight."

The defense went to sleep again right before the end of the first half, after a missed 30-yard field goal by Jay Taylor. The Bucs kicker nailed a 20-yarder one play earlier, but tight end Ken Dilger was penalized for tripping. Instead of a 10-7 lead, Brees engineered an 80-yard drive in 12 plays, capped by his touchdown pass to Kassim Osgood with 49 seconds left for a 14-7 deficit. "You've got to score when you're down on the 1- or 2-yard line," Gruden said. "You've got to take advantage of what field position and scoring opportunities present themselves. It just appears when we miss some field goals, there's a sag, a downer. It's like somebody died. We have a hard time putting it back together. I think San Diego was able to turn the tide and make that a 10-point swing with an immediate scoring drive of their own. It's very, very down when you miss a short field goal and you've got some great execution to put yourselves in position to take the lead on the road."

Tomlinson finished with 131 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Brees, who passed for 220 yards and two scores, was intercepted twice. As for Keenan McCardell, the former disgruntled Bucs receiver who was traded to the Chargers, he didn't have much impact. He caught three passes for 30 yards before leaving late in the second quarter with a hamstring injury. "I don't know what the (playoff) scenario is, and I really don't care," Barber said. "We've just got to play for each other. If it works out, it works out. At this point, I think we were thinking this was a single-elimination type game for us, and we got beat. Leave it at that. If the gods have it, we'll still find a way to get in. That's the traits of this team this year. We're not so much getting beat as losing games. We're finding ways to kick our own a--, and that's not championship football at all."

Rick Stroud The St.Petersburg Times 13 December 2004