Rookie King loses grip but retains confidence
This time, Shaun King could not be the savior. Now he will see if he is a survivor. After leading Tampa Bay tosecond-half comebacks in his first two NFL starts, King played Sunday more like an inexperienced rookie than a suave veteran. The 22-year-old out of Tulane was intercepted once, lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and was sacked four times by the Raiders. He finished 17-of-29 for 142 yards, missed open receivers and was indecisive in the pocket. "He's been under a lot of pressure," receiver Bert Emanuel said. "You can imagine some of the things going on. A lot of attention, a lot of media attention, national attention. And to lose his first game in two or three years he'll bounce back. "

Emotionally, he's right where he needs to be. This is what, his third game? He knows what's at stake. He has that composure, and he'll be good for us next week." It was the first loss in 25 months for King, who led Tulane to an undefeated season and had won the three of the regular-season games he played in. Last week, King overcame a 41-yard rushing effort and a 10-0 deficit to lead the Bucs past Detroit.

But on Sunday, with Tampa Bay at 1.8 yards per carry and held to a season-low 34 yards rushing, King was constantly hurried. His longest completion was 14 yards. "After the game, I felt like I was making the right reads," King said. "I think we were putting ourselves in tough situations. We were in a lot of second and long, a lot of third and long. They were just saying we're going to make you throw the check-downs and come up and make tackles."

Things went from bad to worse. On King's first snap from center, he was sacked for a 11-yard loss by linebacker Eric Barton. A second quarter series typified King's day. With the Raiders leading 10-0 and the Bucs at midfield, King dropped back to pass and did not see Emanuel streaking uncovered on a post pattern. He scrambled for a 6-yard gain. On the next play, King was indecisive and fired low to fullback Mike Alstott for an incompletion.

On the next series, Alstott lost his sixth fumble of the season, setting up Tyrone Wheatley's 30-yard scoring run to leave the Bucs trailing 17-0. That became 24-0 early in the third quarter when King lost his grip on the ball during a pass attempt and the fumble was returned 13 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Lance Johnstone. King was quick to defend Alstott: "Everybody fumbles. Tell me a back in the NFL that doesn't fumble sometimes. It happens. Today, we just weren't able to bounce back from his or mine."

Tony Dungy said he did not consider replacing King with veteran Eric Zeier. King will start Sunday against the Packers. "I thought Shaun did some good things," Dungy said. "He was rushed a little bit and once we fell behind, it's tough against a good defense to go out there and get into a throwing situation. He'll learn from it, and I think we'll all learn from it."

Emanuel said players have confidence King can lead them into the playoffs and beyond: "You're in the worst possible conditions. You're down. Things haven't been going well all day. Then all of a sudden the play is there to be made and you're not in rhythm. We weren't in rhythm all day. We were just searching for a positive play all day. Anything, a run, a pass a scramble - anything."

Said King: "We came out and didn't play well. It happens. You tell me one of the teams that doesn't have one Sunday where they don't play well. We're 6-1 in our last seven games, so we have no reason to have our heads down low. Next week we're going to be in the same situation where if we win, we clinch a playoff spot."

Rick Stroud , The St.Petersburg Times 1999