Lack of smarts leaves Bucs smarting

Published December 27, 2004

TAMPA - Previously on our show, the Tampa Bay Bucs had firmly established that they are not particularly skilled.

Also, they had shown evidence to suggest that they are not particularly fast, not particularly furious, not particularly fun. They aren't really big, and they aren't especially strong, and they are not remotely resilient. It has been suggested they lack passion, perspective and poise. Also, determination, dedication and discipline.

By the latest episode, perhaps you thought you had the Bucs of 2004 all figured out. Then came Sunday, and the test grades came back.

Turns out, they don't play particularly smart, either.

It doesn't take Edison to figure out that, as light bulbs go, the Bucs are not the brightest candelabra in the league. They are a team as bewildered as they are bewildering, a team where the questions constantly seem to outnumber the answers.

Once, the Bucs played football the way Bobby Fischer played chess. There is such a thing as football IQ, and the Bucs seemed to have more of it than most teams. They seemed smarter, shrewder than their opponents. They seemed to know angles and answers.

Now, the Bucs play the way Gomer Pyle played chess. They have misplaced another season, and they cannot remember where they had it last. They are stumped, and the problems keep coming.

Sunday, the Bucs could not figure out how to get out of their own way or into that of the Carolina Panthers. As a result, they lost by 17 points and, at times, you wondered if they were playing against the right team. Most of the Bucs' effort, after all, seemed to be spent trying to beat the Bucs, not the Panthers.

You might have figured the Bucs to come out snarling. After all, two of their leaders had questioned them last week. Ronde Barber said they were a bad team. Simeon Rice suggested they needed discipline. So what did the Bucs do? They proved both men right.

As a franchise, the Bucs are going backward. Three seasons ago, they won 12 regular-season games. In the two seasons since, they also have won 12 ... total. If they lose to Arizona Sunday, they will finish with their worst record since 1993, the days of slinging Sammy Wyche. That team had Craig Erickson and Courtney Hawkins and a combined salary of about $37.80. Looking at the roster, this one should be a little bit better.

It isn't. Look at the way it responds in the series of rises and falls of every game. For all of this team's injuries, the ones that hurt the most are the constant brain cramps.

First play of the game? Brian Griese drops back and, with no one around him, turns into Chevy Chase. He falls over sideways for a loss of 11 and, essentially, the drive is over.

Next series? On first and 10 Griese throws into double coverage for another interception. For a guy who started out like reclaimed treasure, Griese has thrown enough passes to the wrong guys to make you reassess his grip on the future.

Then there was the second-quarter play when the Bucs, trailing 14-7, recovered a Panthers fumble at midfield. Wait. Chartric Darby, a defensive tackle, lined up offsides on the play. No turnover.

Late in the second quarter, the Bucs were within striking distance at the Panthers 29. Kenyatta Walker was called for holding. Two plays later, the Bucs decided to punt. Josh Bidwell dropped a perfect snap.

It went on that way throughout the game. With a chance to make it a one-score game, Griese fumbled. Later, he threw another interception that was returned for a touchdown. They dropped passes. They missed tackles. If you had held a map upright for them, they couldn't have located Muhsin Muhammad.

"Some of the mistakes we made were just inexcusable," coach Jon Gruden said.

"We've played smarter," Barber said.

Look, the first lesson in football is a simple one: If you beat yourself, the other team won't have to. Penalties are not flukes. Turnovers are not random acts. Smart teams know that.

For the Bucs, the scariest question of the day is this: What is the record going to be after 15 games next year? Gruden, for one, vows the Bucs will turn things around.

How? Ask yourself some hard questions about the offense. How many stars, present tense, do you see there? Aside from Michael Clayton, how many cornerstones do you see?

Yes, Griese has had a good year, but is he the answer? Who knows?

Yes, Joey Galloway has speed. But he also plays the game as if he is carrying a Ming vase under his jersey. Just wondering: Why did Galloway go to the locker room at halftime three plays early? Did Mom have dinner ready?

Yes, people love Mike Alstott and Joe Jurevicius. But Alstott is nine years in, and Jurevicius doesn't seem to have his speed back yet.

In other words, the people in charge of personnel for the Bucs have some heavy lifting to do. Those in charge of the draft, too.

It's strange. Last year, everyone was grumbling about the 7-9 record. From here, 7-9 is a walk in the clouds. From here, 7-9 was the good old days. Seven victories sounds like fate got in the way of a decent season. Five wins sounds like a team that will get invited to play a lot of homecoming games next year.

The Bucs have a lot of catching up to do. As they try to do so, it might help if they wouldn't run with scissors.