Another Painful Day Likely Will Prove Costly For Bucs
Joe Henderson, The Tampa Tribune, published 8 October 2007

If you haven't gotten a call yet from Bruce Allen, just be patient and keep your cell phone handy. He is probably about halfway through his Rolodex by now, with most of the conversations going something like, 'Hey there ... say, you wouldn't have a spare running back you'd like to trade, would you?'

Yeah, it's that bad. They lost another one Sunday. This time, it was Michael Pittman in the all-too-familiar position of being carted off the field with what officially was called a sprained ankle while his teammates surrounded him in a show of support we have come to know so well.

The Bucs say they'll know today how severe the injury was, but as fellow running back Earnest Graham said afterward, 'It doesn't look too good.'

No, it doesn't. If you've ever carried the ball or thought about carrying the ball, and your first name isn't O.J., the Bucs are hiring. The situation is dire enough that they'd even have to seriously look at ol' ganja man himself, Ricky Williams, if the Dolphins are in a mood to deal. Either that, or watch the season go to pot.

It was the second week in a row that the team's No. 1 back has left the locker room on crutches, although truthfully it probably didn't make much difference in the outcome of this game. Indianapolis won, 33-14, because Peyton Manning was just that good, even on a day when the Colts were missing, gulp, five starters. 'That Peyton Manning really irritated me today,' Jon Gruden said.

Watching the opposing quarterback complete 29 of 37 for 253 yards and two touchdowns tends to have that effect. Like we said, if that was the only thing that went wrong Sunday, you could just chalk it up to one of the best players ever having the kind of day we've come to expect. Alas, it's more alarming than that.

Alarming is a good way to describe a ground game that produced 17 yards on 12 tries against the Colts. Seven of those yards came on a scramble by quarterback Jeff Garcia. Without a semblance of ground cover, the Bucs couldn't keep the ball for more than a few minutes here and there.

That's not a way to beat Manning, who seemed like he never came off the field. The Colts finished with a nearly 17-minute edge in time of possession. 'They just ate the clock, man,' cornerback Ronde Barber said.

The trick now is to keep the injuries from eating the season. There is never a good day to play the Colts, especially here in their turfed-up, amped-up, soon-to-be-bulldozed noise chamber of a home stadium. However, with the Colts missing all those starters - including Marvin Harrison and Joseph Addai - you'd think the Bucs could at least have slowed them down.

Instead, the Colts got 121 yards on 28 carries from reserve running back Kenton Keith. He had 23 carries for 134 yards all season before this game. And so much for missing Harrison, one of the best receivers ever. Manning simply moved the ball around seven times each to rookie Anthony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark. Oh, Keith also caught five passes. 'I think he's the best,' Barber said of Manning. 'We've been beaten badly before, but he just dissects you.'

Indeed, the Colts converted 12 of 16 third downs. Of course, it helps when you're operating without the nuisance of a pass rush in your face - which Manning was, save for a few exceptions. 'They weren't complicated out there,' Barber said. 'We knew what they were running. They didn't run that many different plays or different formations. Some of the defenses we were in, he had time to find the open guy.'

Manning doesn't play defense, though. The Colts came into the game ranked No. 22 against the run, but the Bucs couldn't exploit that. Indy put what seemed like two dozen guys in the box at times, but the Bucs couldn't make them pay. Joey Galloway dropped at least two passes that appeared catchable It was basically a mess. That's how you finish a game with 177 total yards. 'They're a good defense; give them credit where credit is due,' Garcia said. 'But we need to be better than that.'

Now What? If Pittman's injury is serious enough to keep him out three or four weeks, which might be a best-case scenario, the Bucs simply have to make a move. They share the lead in the NFC South, but they'll never hold it with Graham and Kenneth Darby as the featured backs.

We're not saying anything Bruce Allen - or anyone else - doesn't know, obviously. The grim look on his face as he walked wordlessly past the Bucs locker room after the game spoke volumes, and Gruden conceded there would be discussions about what to do on the plane ride home Sunday night.

It's hard to make trades in the NFL, and the Bucs surely know the price to acquire the kind of back who can make a difference just went through the roof, but they know they have to pay it. The season depends on it. What? Your phone is ringing. You'd better take the call. It's probably Bruce. You can ask for the moon.