Dilfer offers no excuses
Ernest Hooper, The St.Petersburg Times, published 15 December 1997

Trent Dilfer scrambled to his left hoping to complete a pass to tight end John Davis in Sunday's game against the Jets, but his sore right ankle gave out and Dilfer fell to the Giants Stadium turf. From his perspective, that was the only time he had any trouble with the injury that kept him out of practice most of the week and led many to think he wouldn't play against the Jets. Of course, Dilfer's assertion sheds no light on why he completed only 2 of 15 passes for 38 yards in the 31-0 loss.

In the worst game of his career, Dilfer not only completed 13.3 percent of his passing attempts, he threw two interceptions that Jets cornerback Otis Smith returned for touchdowns. Was Dilfer sure the injury and the missed practice weren't a factor? "I really don't think so and I would say so if it did," Dilfer said when asked if missing practice hurt his performance. "I don't think the ankle had anything to do with it. My ankle felt fine on my drops and I threw the ball very well in warmups and actually threw some good balls early. The lack of practice? I think I might have been a half-count slow on some things. Ultimately, you just have to play better football. This never would have happened if I hadn't thrown two interceptions for touchdowns and got us in the hole quick."

One of the interceptions wasn't his fault; it deflected off the hands of Horace Copeland. But the other was an out pass that just took too long to get to the sideline. "I don't know what made him throw that ball, but it came out real late," Smith said.

Dilfer also appeared to have missed an open receiver on third and 10 from the Jets' 24-yard line. On other passes, his timing seemed affected. And he mishandled a handoff on third and 1 from the Jets' 14, which resulted in a lost fumble. It made you wonder whether Tampa Bay would have been better going with Steve Walsh, the veteran backup who handled most of the snaps in practice, but Bucs coach Tony Dungy said he thought the decision to go with Dilfer was correct. "We felt if Trent could actually run and move around without any pain that he would play," Dungy said. "He came out in warmups and did that, so we decided to start him."

Walsh relieved Dilfer in the second half but didn't prove much better, completing only 1 of 7 for 8 yards. Still, Walsh said, he would have liked the chance to make his first start as a Buc. "I was a lot disappointed," Walsh said. "Not saying I could have done any better, but I was looking forward to making a contribution to this season and I really thought this was going to be my opportunity."

Dungy said he thought the biggest problem for the offense was the wind, which affected the Bucs in the first and fourth quarters. He also said the ineffective attack could not be pinned on one player. "Our passing game is off right now," Dungy said. "It's everybody. We have a ball there we don't catch. Next time we're open, we don't put the ball on target. Next time we're open, we don't protect. We have to throw the ball better in order to win."

Despite his performance, Dilfer remained upbeat about solving the offensive unit's problems. "It was tough. It doesn't mean I'm a bad quarterback or this is a bad football team or they're a great defense. It just means today I had a bad day, we had a bad day offensively and their defense played very well. "I've had bad days before and come back from them and hopefully I'll do it again."