No Mystery - Bucs Just Weren't Good Enough
What happened Sunday to the Bucs wasn't a mystery. At the risk of invoking an annoying pop culture reference, they are who we thought they were - or maybe who we were afraid they were. At least that's what Jeff Garcia seemed to be saying, following the 24-14 loss to the New York Giants in the first and final round of the playoffs for the Bucs.

"In a lot of ways, I think we've ridden the back of our defense all season long. We really needed to step up as an offense and be better as an offense. Unfortunately, as we've seen throughout the year, the inconsistencies of our offense came back to haunt us - not making enough plays, not finding a way to make a big play," he said.

Garcia was knocked to the ground on many of the 39 times he tried to pass. With no time to work the passing game, the Bucs offense was turned into a study in futility for the last three quarters. Their only receiver with game-changing speed, Joey Galloway, was a non-factor before heading to the locker room with more than three minutes to play - never to return - with what his teammates said was a shoulder injury. All you can do after a beating like that is ask, "Now what?"

Garcia has some suggestions. The Bucs need playmakers - they don't have many. They need more receivers with speed. They need to be the type of team where a 10-point deficit is not a death sentence, as it was in this game.

"We're not a team that can overcome situations like that. We're not there yet. We need to be better at protecting the football to give ourselves a chance. That's something we need to improve upon in this offseason - finding a way to be a better offense, a more consistent offense, and an offense that is more explosive," Garcia said.

"I'm sure Coach Gruden and the offensive coaches will put their heads together and try to come up with a plan and I will be very hands-on this offseason and very involved in whatever it takes to be a better offense."

The Giants led the NFL in sacks this season and managed only one in this game, but no one was fooled. Garcia was throwing off his back foot or with some onrushing behemoths in his nostrils all day. "He took a beating out there," Giants linebacker and former USF standout Kawika Mitchell said.

Maybe they had only one sack, but they also had 11 hurries and a day's worth of pressure on every down. "He's got to have an extra second, two seconds, whatever. He needs all the time he needs to make a throw," center John Wade said. "You ever try to throw a ball with people hitting you? Of course it affected him. I know he was hit too many times. More times than not, he was getting hit. You can't allow that many hits."

You have to lay some of that on Jon Gruden for abandoning the running game too early. The Bucs led 7-0 after the first quarter and had run more than twice as many plays (20-9) while rushing 12 times. They had outgained the Giants 78 yards to minus-2.

But Gruden called just one run among the Bucs' 13 offensive plays in the second quarter. The Giants scored two touchdowns and the Bucs offense fell apart and never came back together. A coaching blunder? Well, sure. But it also served to magnify how feeble this offense is when it gets into a bind. Garcia threw two interceptions in the second half as the Bucs tried to regain what they had lost.

"Sometimes you need to find your way out of the box," Garcia said. "I felt like all game long, things were real tight. Everything we had to gain or make or get was forced. It was not easy to come by. When you have a game like that, it's very difficult. You can't afford to make any mistakes. Unfortunately, we made some mistakes that were very costly."

Maybe if he had that extra second or two Wade talked about, the offensive sluggishness could have been averted. Maybe if he had receivers who really could create space, they could have moved the ball. But they didn't. "We couldn't spread out the defense in a way that would allow us to make plays," Garcia said.

People suspected all year the Bucs were soft champions. They aren't a complete team yet - far from it. This game proved that. "Because of what happened Sunday, I'm more hungry about what I have to do for this team," Garcia said.

That will start with whatever suggestions he has for improving the offense. He'll mention some players the Bucs should go after. Maybe he'll mention some ones who need to leave. And maybe this time next year, it really will be different. It needs to be. You saw it. Everyone saw it. There's no mystery.

They just weren't good enough. Say what you will about overachieving this year and winning a division title when no one thought they could. That's just dandy. But when it mattered most, they weren't good enough. They have several months to fix that. They just weren't good enough.

Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune 7 January 2008