It Was The Bears They Beat, You Know
Tom McEwen, The Tampa Tribune, published 22 September 2008

Chicago Bears fans had to leave shuffling out of their neat, new stadium mumbling the woulda, coulda, shoulda lines. Buccaneer fans everywhere, including the few at Soldier Field, screamed their woulda, coulda, thank gosh, we dida lines. It was that kind of a game that would not give people a kitchen or bathroom break, the second straight Tampa Bay Buccaneer Sunday squirmer, a 27-24 outlasting of the Chicago Bears in their own den.

Surely Tampa quarterback Brian Griese, dumped by the Bears before coming back home to Florida may have been tempted to have shot the place a bird from the exit tunnel, but, his dad would have taught him to settle for the win alone. The elder, Bob, who played a bit in the NFL as well, would shake his no-no finger at him, his 407 yard, two touchdown victory in their old house would be enough.

But, those numbers did not tell the whole story of young Griese in Chicago on Sunday. He quarterbacked every second of the ecstatic win. He again brought the Bucs back from the edge of adversity, but, beyond that, when Chicagoís quarterback, Kyle Orton, playing better than he can, took the Bears out front with time running out, the wise and gifted took these Bucs of Tampa Bay the length of the field and into a position for reliable Matt Bryant to kick a 21-yard field goal from directly in front of the uprights. Bryant is on a roll, likes being on the spot. He would have kicked it from the parking lot.

Now Griese can throw passes high, low, behind and otherwise out of reach of receivers (and did just that at Chicago, but, usually on first down, not third) but heís just doggone good and he got better at Chicago. He likes being a Buccaneer. He likes his receivers, maybe his tight ends best, or maybe he sees them easier. And he surely likes Antonio Bryant, Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton, if he can stay healthy and catch the ball.

Griese had to throw swell Sunday. The Bear defense virtually took away Warrick Dunn, except for a couple of pass receptions, and Earnest Graham. The Bucs had little ground game. But, Grieseís passing and the catching made up for that. Canít win without a running game? Phooey. How good is Chicago? Well, about like the Bucs.

In the division, the Bears will beat people, surely. They are good enough for that. Defense alone will keep them in it and their quarterback, Orton, is doing fine. But, surely Buc fans are delighted if Orton made Griese available. If he can control the occasional throws to nowhere, this team, early as it is, has a shot. The schedule is playable. Green Bay is here Sunday. Donít have to go up there any more and beg the Heavens for no snow.

So then, how good are the Bucs? Theyíre okay and they have a chance. I like the starting quarterback Gruden chose, like his backups. Like his running backs, but maybe could use a bruiserómaybe. Maybe Graham can do it. They need a couple more offensive linemen, but who doesnít?

I like the defensive back so far, certainly more than last year. Like the special teams, as long as Dexter Jackson is healthy. Like the improving linebackers, though a healthy, full-speed All-World Derrick Brooks, is surely missed. And the kicking game is solid with PK man Bryant and often forgotten, but vital, Josh Bidwell.

So, so, far, well, around the NFL, the Bucs are, as usual, overlooked. But, who cares? Right now the baseball Rays are the hot ticket, the hot item, the headline makers. They deserve it. Think how long it was before the Buccos deserved it, but, they did eventually. Ainít it a blessing?