Something Bucs still do well? Lose
He finally made the right call by changing quarterbacks. And he did it at the wrong time. He finally committed to the ground game. And in the end, he was buried beneath it. He got tricky around the goal line. Turns out, he outsmarted himself. In other words, it was a tough afternoon to be Jonny General, football genius. Again.

He changed his mind in mid punt, then watched as his team missed a field goal. He finally argued his way into a replay review, and then he lost his appeal. Egad, he was outcoached by Jim Mora. Also, he lost a football game. Again. His offense was dreadful. Again. The fans sounded annoyed. Again.

Even considering the way most afternoons have gone for Gruden lately, this was particularly torturous. After a 17-6 loss to an Atlanta Falcons team that, by the way, is pretty homely itself, Gruden's record as Bucs coach is now 38-39. As for this year, it is 3-10, and the only momentum that is building sounds like unrest.

Remember when this guy could see tomorrow? Once, he was Tampa Bay's favorite son, young and smart and energetic. Once, he gripped a Super Bowl trophy and proclaimed "you haven't seen nothing yet!"

Well, now we have. Up close, you might have noticed, nothing doesn't look like much.

It's safe to say this about Gruden's offense: Shouldn't he be in favor of having one? The Bucs are in the middle of an offensive touchdown drought of biblical proportions: 32 possessions in more than 11 quarters comprising 2 hours, 51 minutes and 42 seconds. But who's counting?

This is staggering. You could call it amateur hour, but even an amateur should be able to find the part of the field with paint on it. Think of it like this: The Bucs defense gave up seven points Sunday, and the team still lost by 11. Even for this offense, that's hard to do.

The Bucs are bad, and they get worse by the week. They do not run. They do not throw. They do not block. Worst of all, they do not make you think next week will be any better. Or next year. It is like watching Groundhog Day, but only if the groundhog is repeatedly run over by the opposing team's bus.

Oh, Gruden finally saw enough of Bruce Gradkowski. But even when Gruden pulled Gradkowski in the fourth quarter, it felt like a bad decision.

I know, I know. I was one of the guys calling for a new quarterback after last week. But answer me this: If Gradkowski was the right guy coming into the game - and according to Gruden, he was - then why wasn't he the right guy with 4:31 to go in a one-score game? Doesn't a quarterback in the flow of a game give his team a better chance than a backup who hadn't played in 14 months?

Against a Falcons defense playing even softer than usual, Tim Rattay played well down the stretch. You can't be sure if Gruden appreciated it, though. After all, he didn't even kick a field goal in the final seconds to give his quarterback something to savor, the way he did for Gradkowski last week against Pittsburgh.

At least this time, Gruden tried to run the ball, which he hasn't done enough of this season. But could someone explain to me why third and goal at the 5, with a chance to go ahead 10-0, was one of those plays where he tried?

Did anyone, anywhere, think that Michael Pittman was going to rip for 5 yards up the middle against the Falcons? The Falcons were so surprised, they didn't tackle Pittman until he had run a good 4 inches. If the Bucs ran that play 50 times, how many times would it succeed?

There was a time, remember, when Gruden's offense was thought of as sound in the running game. No more. The Bucs ran 29 times for 80 yards against Atlanta. Here's a hint, guys: When they say football is a game of inches, they aren't talking about an average per rush, okay?

"We tried the 2-hole, the 3-hole, the 4-hole, the 5-hole, the 6-hole and the 7-hole," Gruden said. "We ran outside. We ran draws. We ran traps. When you run 25-30 times and you get 55-60 yards, that's ridiculous."

Agreed. And when you build an offense line that isn't able to block any of holes or any of those plays, that's ridiculous, too. With Gruden, that's the vexing problem. It isn't just the plays that look out of place, it's the players. In his time here, Gruden has replaced almost everyone, but no one seems to be much of an upgrade. You can see plenty of young players, but do you see any improving ones?

No wonder Gruden's popularity has unraveled along with the season. Despite the noise, however, there seems to be little indication he will not be back. Between now and then, do you believe Gruden finds himself a quarterback? Do you think he constructs an offensive line? Do you think he cures Cadillac's hands, and finds a couple of more defensive playmakers and solves his red-zone funk? Do you think he turns things around?

At 3-10, it's hard to figure out the odds. Just guessing, though, they look a lot longer than Pittman up the middle on third and goal from the 5.

Gary Shelton, The St.Petersburg Times 11 December 2006