Expect changes after 46-36 loss to Carolina.
By KEVIN BRAFFORD
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2002
RALEIGH, N.C. -- If there was any question before, there's none now. The Storm is in trouble.
Tampa Bay played true to recent form on Saturday, looking much like the bottom feeder it has become in a 46-36 loss to Carolina in front of 9,314 at the Entertainment & Sports Arena.
That the Storm, 0-3 and in the cellar of the Southern Division, was within a couple of plays from beating the Cobras (2-1) was remarkable. Tampa Bay didn't score in two of the four quarters and spent a good part of the night retreating 5 yards at a clip after procedure penalties.
Still, its fate wasn't sealed until Scott Milanovich, who took over at quarterback for an ineffective Shane Stafford in the third quarter, was picked off by Clarence Lawson with 20 seconds remaining with the Storm trailing 39-36.
Coach Tim Marcum said there will be changes by the start of practice Monday.
"This is very, very frustrating," he said. "We've got to find out who we're going to go with. We'll have some fresh faces, I'll promise you that.
"We can lose with young guys just as well as old guys."
In the first quarter, a Stafford interception led to the first points of the game, a 26-yard Brian Schmitz field goal. Melvin Cunningham fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by Carolina's Jon McCall and led to a 1-yard touchdown by Mario Grier.
The comedy of errors wasn't over. Another empty offensive possession left the Storm in fourth and long, and Mike Black's 54-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Grier, who returned it to the 1. A play later, he had his second touchdown and the Storm trailed 17-0 as the quarter ended.
As bad as Tampa Bay was in those 15 minutes, it was nearly as good in the 15 minutes that followed, prompting a halftime tie at 17. While its defense played well, the Storm also benefitted from two breaks to get back in the game.
Its first scoring drive was kept alive on third and long when a deflected pass found the arms of Carlos Johnson. Three plays later, Deryl Lane scored from a yard out. The Storm then crept closer when Lawrence Samuels pulled in a deflected Stafford pass off the net in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.
Tampa Bay wasn't through. Another defensive stop just before the end of the half led to Black's tying field goal, a 31-yarder.
But the third quarter mirrored the first rather than the second. The offense was blanked again, and Stafford was pulled after his fumble led to a Carolina touchdown. By early in the fourth, Tampa Bay trailed 33-17.
"The game was on the line," Milanovich said of his final interception. "I didn't get it done. That's what quarterbacks are paid to do."