Fennelly: Journey Won't Get Any Easier
Martin Fennelly, The Tampa Tribune, published 10 September 2007

The bell rang. Boy, did it ring. It started out a bright, sunshiny day. The Bucs made a drive or two, a defensive stand or two and led by two field goals, enough to make you think, if for only a second, that they might steal a game and momentum to start this must-win season.

You blinked. Cadillac Williams was on his back, his ribs mashed. You blinked. Jeff Garcia was on one knee, like Chris Simms before him.

What's left of Jon Gruden's life in Tampa passed before his eyes. Garcia returned, but Caddy didn't, a worry beyond a 20-6 loss to the Seahawks. The only way it could have ended worse was if they had let Jerramy Stevens drive the team bus to the airport. 'Just got my bell rung,' Garcia said. 'It was one of those things where I took a shot to the head and the combination of my head bouncing off the ground didn't create a real positive effect.'

Meet the season, Bucs fans. Garcia added, 'I was a little wobbly, a little disoriented. I didn't have everything where it needed to be in order to stay in the game.'

The same can still be said of his new team. In the final three quarters, Gruden's Bucs reminded us how they went 4-12 last season, a trip down memory sewer with nightmares thrown in for good measure. When Luke McCown is handing the ball to Earnest Graham, and it isn't August, you've got problems.

Garcia apparently did more than touch his nose and count backward to rejoin the fray. The Bucs said he underwent a 'complete neurological exam' when he left the game for the dressing room. I believe the Bucs on this one. Even a football team that would disgrace itself by placing Stevens in uniform while he awaits jail time wouldn't let a guy with a concussion back in.

So Garcia might be fine, but he'll be running for dear life for as long as he can run. The question on everyone's mind - 'How long will he last?' - just became a very real one. And even when he was in, these guys couldn't score a touchdown. What else is new?

The Bucs actually pushed the Seahawks around the first 15 minutes. They had 139 yards of offense, only three less than they had all game in last season's opener against Baltimore. They had the first two scoring drives. The offensive line held its ground. The defense looked like the old defense. But the signs were there ...

The Bucs couldn't convert on a pair of third-and-shorts and settled for 6-0 instead of 10-0 or 14-0. 'That came back to haunt us,' said right guard Davin Joseph, who did some haunting himself with his penalties.

They were undermined when long punt returns by Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard were wiped out on penalties by Ronde Barber and Sabby Piscitelli. Then there were the only two big Seattle plays in the first half, their own long punt return, as well as a third-and-12 deep ball the Bucs couldn't stop, with Barrett Ruud beaten and Jermaine Phillips late to arrive.

That's what built Seattle's 10-6 halftime lead. Two plays is all it took. There went momentum. There went the Bucs. They didn't have everything they needed in order to stay in the game. The screaming in Cadillac's ribs and the birdies in Garcia's brain - don't forget Brian Kelly's aching groin - only added to the pain.

And now today's Bucs fun fact: With Sunday's loss, Gruden is 42-43 overall in Tampa Bay, his first time below .500 since losing the 2002 opener in his very first Bucs game. For comic relief, there was Bucs punter Josh Bidwell not punting while all around him played on because Bidwell said he heard a loud whistle. Bet Garcia heard it, too.

Officials bestowed mercy on Bidwell and replayed the down. But they couldn't help the greatest, proudest Buc of them all, Derrick Brooks, who was hopelessly lost on Seattle's game-clinching fourth-quarter touchdown. It was hard to watch. 'It's always a journey, man,' Barber said. 'Sometimes you start from the mountain, sometimes you start from the valley.'

Caddy on his back, Garcia on his knee. Meet the valley, Bucs fans. If you think the journey will get easier, you ought to have your head completely, neurologically examined.