FIVE TOPICS SUITABLE FOR INANE DEBATE ON TALK RADIO
A TEAM OF TIN MEN
Fumbles are details. Defensive collapses are part of the minutiae. The real story of this team is that it chokes. Again and again and again. In close games (seven points or fewer) the Bucs are 4-14 the past two seasons. In games that are not close (more than seven points) they are 8-4. It would be heart-breaking, except they seem to lack that particular organ.

IS IT TIME TO EXPERIMENT?
Technically, the Bucs still have playoff aspirations. Realistically, they are kaput. Now you wonder if it's time to appraise Chris Simms. Considering the $8-million Brian Griese is due in 2005, the Bucs probably should figure out if Simms is a viable alternative.

OKAY, IT'S A CHEAP SHOT
For a second, I thought Richard Bisaccia had found an opposing special-teams coach he could taunt.

LOSING HIS GRIP ON THE SEASON
He is averaging nearly 76 rushing yards, which is better than Warrick Dunn or Mike Alstott ever did for the Bucs. And, yet, you could argue Michael Pittman has done more harm than good. He has lost five fumbles in his past nine games. This, for a player who had five fumbles in his previous 49 games.

PLAYOFFS COULD DELAY THIS WHOLE PINK SLIP THIN:
With four minutes left in the game, Jim Haslett looked like a coach in need of a good firing. Now he has the Saints tied with Carolina and St. Louis for the second wild card. Maybe next week.

FIVE CHRISTMAS CAROLS FOR THE BUCS
5. Here comes Aaron Stecker, here comes Aaron Stecker, right down memory lane.
4. Joy to the World! The draft is near!
3. Oh the salary cap is looking frightful, how can the GM look so delightful?
2. O come all ye faithful, joyless and tormented.
1. We'll be homely for Christmas.

FIVE DEFEAT-DEFYING STATS (OR FIVE REASONS THEY HAVE NO HEART)
SACKS
Putting pressure on the quarterback should be the cornerstone of any defense. The Bucs have 44 sacks, compared with 38 for opponents. And yet they're 5-9.

TIME OF POSSESSION
The team that controls the ball should control the game. The Bucs came into the week with an average possession time (30:23 per game) better than 19 teams. And yet they're 5-9.

THIRD-DOWN CONVERSION
We're told no play is more important than third down. The Bucs have converted on third down at a rate of 38.6 percent while holding opponents to 35.6. And yet they're 5-9.

INTERCEPTIONS
Nothing rips the heart out of a team more than a quarterback failing to take care of the ball. The Bucs have thrown 14 interceptions, while the defense has come up with 15. And yet they're 5-9.

POINTS
The most basic measure. You score more points, you win. The Bucs have outscored opponents 274-255. Among NFC teams, only Philadelphia and Green Bay have outscored opponents by a larger margin. And yet the Bucs are 5-9.

FINAL FIVE WORDS
Upon further review, they're done.

John Romano The St.Petersburg Times 20 December 2004