More pain, no gain
Stephen F Holder, The St.Petersburg Times, published 8 October 2007

Things that had come with relative ease suddenly felt next to impossible. Hope was pushed aside by doubt. And now, it seems, no one knows what to think. The Bucs came in as a team that had started to make some ponder the possibilities. They left looking like a team that didn't belong.

Perhaps more than anything, the 33-14 thrashing at the hands of the world champion Colts on Sunday showed that the Bucs (3-2) have a long way left to travel in their climb back from the basement. "This is a reality check," guard Davin Joseph said. "If you do make it to the postseason, which is where we want to go, you can't go out and play like this. It was not good enough."

It was a thorough beating: The Colts outgained the Bucs 400 total yards to 177. And if those numbers seem painful, then consider this: Michael Pittman became the second running back lost in as many games, leaving in the second quarter with an injury that threatens to sideline him for the foreseeable future. The team feared he had a cracked bone in his right ankle or lower leg. Pittman, walking to the team bus at a snail's pace with the aid of crutches, said X-rays were inconclusive.

But the mood of coach Jon Gruden indicated that Pittman's injury is seen as another devastating blow to the position, one week after the loss of Cadillac Williams to a season-ending patellar tendon tear in his right knee. Now the Bucs - who rushed for 17 yards - will likely be forced to make a trade or sign a free agent to address the alarming lack of depth at the position. "We're going to have to either put in the no-back formation or we'll have to certainly address that somehow, some way," Gruden said.

That latest challenge was compounded by the ugly loss. For a team that seemed to be riding a wave of optimism after an unexpected three-game win streak, Tampa Bay seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis. Who are these guys? "We're still trying to figure out who we are," cornerback Brian Kelly said.

Are the Bucs the team that had its way with opposing defenses in the previous three games or the one that didn't make a first down until the 11:27 mark of the second quarter Sunday? Is this the defense that limited opponents to an average of eight points in the past three games or the one that gave up scoring drives of 14, 12, 13 and 11 plays against the Colts - a team missing its top receiver (Marvin Harrison), runner (Joseph Addai) and safety (Bob Sanders) because of injuries.

"We don't know what our identity is right now," defensive end Kevin Carter said. "It seems right now that every game on our schedule is the biggest game of the year. Even though this was the biggest game of our lives this week, next week is now the biggest game of our lives. Winning or losing begets more of the same."

The Bucs opened the game by going three and out on their first three possessions. Five of the Bucs' first eight offensive plays resulted in losses. By the time the offense started to move, the Bucs trailed 13-0 as Colts quarterback Peyton Manning consistently carved up a confused defense.

The tide could have turned after Alex Smith grabbed the first of his two 3-yard touchdown passes on a rollout by quarterback Jeff Garcia with 6:43 left in the second quarter. But the Colts responded with a 12-play scoring drive in the final 2:01 of the half, with Adam Vinatieri nailing a 27-yard field goal. The knockout punch came on a 77-yard Colts scoring drive that chewed up the first 7:37 of the third quarter. Kenton Keith's 7-yard touchdown run gave the Colts a 23-7 lead - and the rout was on.

Their running game in tatters, the Bucs tried to stretch the field. But Garcia and top target Joey Galloway were stymied by Colts coach and Tampa Bay icon Tony Dungy's vintage defense. "They have two deep safeties, and they are real deep. And the middle linebacker plays right down the middle," Gruden said. "That's Tampa 2, baby, and the rush is in your face in a hurry. We're trying to come up with some plays to beat that coverage."

Meanwhile, Manning finished with a quarterback rating of 101.9, completing 29 of 37 passes for 253 yards. Keith finished with 121 yards and two touchdowns. The game was the definition of domination. So, what will the Bucs do now?

"We're going to go back to the lab, and we're going to come back better than we've ever been," safety Jermaine Phillips said. "The big test is how do we bounce back. Are we going to be a team that goes in the tank or are we going to be a team that builds on this?"