Beaten And Beat Up
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 10 September 2007

By halftime Sunday you had to know the Bucs were in trouble. From what I could tell from watching the hi-def and enjoying the comforts of my recliner back here in the idyllic suburb of Brandon, the Bucs should have been ahead of Seattle by three touchdowns. Instead, they were behind by four points. Not good.

When you get a good team down on the road, you have to put them away. And although the Bucs played well enough at times particularly on defense to be encouraged, they couldn't make a play in the clutch. Jeff Garcia put up some decent numbers in his first start at quarterback until he got pulverized, but the only number that matters is on the scoreboard.

Seattle 20, Bucs 6. Oh, and another number: 0-and-1. Random thoughts: So ... How 'bout those USF Bulls, huh?

OK, back on task ... The Bucs did worse than lose this game. They got beat up. Tell me you didn't fall to your knees and plead with the football gods when Garcia left the game briefly in the third quarter after he took a hard shot on the back of his neck while scrambling. He returned to play, but let's put it this way: The man won't hold up for a full season of this stuff. It's just the first week and he already took a beating.

And that doesn't even count Cadillac Williams, who took a big hit on his ribs a few minutes before Garcia went out and left the game. Or, ominously, the groin injury that knocked Brian Kelly out of the game in the second half. We saw last year how the defense struggled without Kelly on the field.

The rebuilt offense took a different route to the same result as last year's bunch. It's still about points and these guys didn't score many. The offensive line was a problem, as expected. Before he left with the injury in the third quarter, Cadillac showed some flash and Jon Gruden gave him the ball (12 carries for 60 yards). But what if he can't play? What if Garcia is hurt worse than we think?

Joey Galloway can still get loose and still make a catch (five for 72 yards). Ike Hilliard showed a veteran's savvy and the defensive line managed to put some pressure on Matt Hasselbeck. But there were the kind of killer mistakes that can ruin a good effort. Special teams penalties wiped out two good returns, for instance, including an illegal block flag on rookie Sabby Piscitelli that cost the Bucs about 40 yards in field position after a good punt return by Ike Hilliard. Instead of starting a drive near midfield, the Bucs began at their 7.

And there was the inability to finish drives. Maybe they just aren't good enough. On their second series, the Bucs reached the 17 and had third-and-2 only to settle for a field goal when Garcia was sacked. Later in the period Garcia couldn't convert on third-and-3 to Hilliard at the Seattle 14 and that meant another field goal.

It could have been 14-0 at that point. It NEEDED to be 14-0 at that point. Instead, it was 6-0 and the Seahawks were one play away from taking the lead. They got that one play, by the way.

It's dangerous to make many snap judgments based on one game, but even though this one ended up in a loss there is reason for cautious optimism. Very cautious. Extremely cautious. It depends on the medical report today. If the report is bad, this season could spiral quickly out of control. If not, maybe they have a chance to be not horrible.

The Bucs were inept in last year's opener, losing 27-0 against Baltimore. By the second week we knew that wasn't a fluke, and by the fourth game the season was over. This bunch seems a little different. The defense has regained some swagger and played very well Sunday, and losing a close game at Seattle a team many believe could represent the NFC in the Super Bowl is no disgrace.

It's clear the Bucs lack a real play-maker on offense and that will be a problem all year. They aren't very fast and they aren't powerful, which means they'll struggle to move the ball. But if they can keep from getting buried in the early part of the schedule, they'll have a chance to make a run in the second half of the season.

Game 2 next Sunday against New Orleans is your basic must-win though. The Saints got drilled 41-10 at Indy and the Bucs are playing at home. Lose that and we can officially start the ''Who Is Replacing Gruden'' watch.