Kiffin Era Is Ending With Defense MIA
Monte Kiffin, who hasn't left for Knoxville (really, he hasn't) stood near the exit to the Bucs locker room Sunday. He was a bit shaken. The Chargers had just put up 41 points as part of this increasingly epic Bucs collapse. It was the most points a Bucs team has allowed in Tampa in 15 years. A shattering day. "We didn't get it done," Kiffin said.

The defense that mostly laid down the law the first 12 games has gone missing. And so the Bucs still need one win. Only now they need a Cowboys loss or tie at Philadelphia. Now they need help. That's inexcusable. Ronde Barber smiled as he connected with, as he put it, his "inner Jim Mora."

"We got to win a game - period," he said. "To hell with the playoffs, man. We have to win a game."

So many final chapters of what turned into Bucs playoff seasons have been written by great Bucs defenses, Monte Kiffin defenses. But they were trampled by Carolina. Sunday, they were overwhelmed by San Diego passes.

They had no answers. They had no pass rush. I think the safeties were doing their Christmas shopping. Gaines Adams was asked why the Bucs didn't get to Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns. "We were getting pressure, but he was moving around," Adams said.

Oh, those pesky top-rated NFL quarterbacks! The defense should stop the Raiders. But who knows at this point? And who knows if it will matter? And who really knows about the other thing? Ah, the other thing.

How do you not start to wonder, even a little, if it's just a coincidence that the D's slide fairly coincides with Kiffin's decision to join his son at Tennessee? Kiffin's players bristle at the word "distraction." "I bristle, too," Kiffin said, though with a Monte grin. "There's no way. No way. ... Are you kidding me? ... Forget about it. I'm not going to let these guys down."

I don't think he would. He's working as hard as ever. And I don't think his players would let him down, not consciously. But Kiffin leaving has to be a shock to their system. You know, it doesn't have to be anyone's fault when something is a distraction. Kiffin says it isn't, and I take him at his word. I mean, it's Monte. "They've been totally focused, on time to every meeting," he said. "We had a great week of practice."

We only know that they were awful against the Chargers, and at the worst possible time. We only know that hanging like meat in a freezer is no way for the glory of the Kiffin Era to end - period.

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 22 December 2008