Bucs Fold To Complete Great Crash
Break out the dictionary. It's open season. On Jon Gruden. On every single Bucs coach and player. And it should be. Pick a word, any word. Collapse. Fold. Gag. Choke. They all fit. "Hurt, I'm really hurt, personally and for this team," Derrick Brooks said.

With the Great Crash staring them right in the eyes, the Bucs put their pads on over their Eagles T-shirts, rubbed their Eagles good luck charms in hopes that Philadelphia would beat Dallas …and promptly rolled over and died.

On a day when the 0-14 Bucs finally got off the hook with the Detroit Lions finishing 0-16, the 2008 Bucs were strung up by the ankles by the woeful Oakland Raiders, 31-24 to completely miss the playoffs, an epic feat considering this team was 9-3 21 days ago.

Make no mistake: Sunday was one of the worst days in Bucs history, which is saying a very great deal. Three weeks ago, these guys felt like a million dollars. Now they've got quarters over their eyes. They proceeded to fill their stocking with coal, going 0-and-December, finishing up by blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to a 4-11 team. "[I'm] the head football coach," Gruden said. "You have to take responsibility for that."

The Glazers once fired Tony Dungy for not advancing in the playoffs. Well, Gruden hasn't won a playoff game since the Super Bowl, and has missed the playoffs four of the last six seasons. He only looks good this morning if you stand him next to Cowboys coach Wade Phillips. This was worse than even Gruden's 4-12 season. This team wasn't ready down the stretch. It wasn't ready Sunday. It came out flat and after grabbing the lead, it stopped playing.

The day was not without its sad moments. There was the sight of Cadillac Williams, who played his heart out (two touchdowns) writhing on the ground with another knee injury. And there was a seemingly one-legged Derrick Brooks gimping downfield on two bad hamstrings in a futile attempt to stop Oakland's Michael Bush on a 67-yard touchdown for the winning touchdown.

Jeff Garcia, who threw a crucial interception late, choked up while considering his future with the team, if there is any. And Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin also fought his emotions after his defense was left in tatters again. Kiffin is off to Tennessee and Rocky Top. First came Rock Bottom. Now complete is easily the worst collapse in Bucs history, and right up there with the worst NFL has in its morgue. For 12 games, the Bucs had dreamed the biggest dreams.

"I thought we were going all the way. I had no doubt," Bucs center Jeff Faine said. "If you had told me that we were going to finish 9-7 and be out of the playoffs, I would have called you crazy. You're crazy. I never would have believed it in a million years."

They lost Sunday as they lost this season, from ahead. They lost this season as they lost all December, in the fourth quarter, with crucial mistakes, with Kiffin's once proud defense getting trampled. They had a 24-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, but simply fell apart. Defensive back Will Allen's long pass interference penalty set up an Oakland touchdown.

Then, after the Bucs missed on third down, the Raiders got the ball back with 7:16 left in the game. Here was the last stand of the last Kiffin defense. It lasted one play. Bush went right, past missed tackles, into an open gap, and he was gone, just like this Bucs season.

Garcia added that interception and the Raiders added a field goal. There was one last Bucs gasp, but the clock ran out after Garcia was sacked near midfield. The Bucs once had all the time in the world, four chances to win maybe one game. Now there is nothing. Sometimes a million years can go by real fast. Crazy, isn't it?

These Bucs, who began so boldly, wound up nowhere. There has been a lot of that since the Super Bowl. But Sunday was a new low. This team needs an overhaul. This team needs a chopping block. No one should feel safe this morning. This was that bad. "I wish words could explain it," Brooks said.

Collapse. Fold. Gag. Choke. They're a nice start. By the way, the Eagles beat the Cowboys.

Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune 29 December 2008