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Breaks make up only part of Bucs' unbeaten start
By RICK STROUD
Published October 9, 2005
Sure, replay cameras helped, but nobody pictured this: The Bucs are 4-0 for only the third time in their 30-year history heading into today's game with the woebegone 1-3 Jets.
The Bucs' breaks have all been good, the Jets' have been downright rotten.
Three plays in three games, all determined by referees, went the Bucs' way.
No. 1: A phantom offensive pass interference call on Vikings tight end Jermaine Wiggins wiped out a touchdown in the 24-13 win over Minnesota. Otherwise, the Bucs lose the lead and probably the game.
No. 2: On the sack-fumble of quarterback Brian Griese that was ruled an incomplete pass at Green Bay, replay review determined that Griese fumbled. But because the play was whistled dead, the Bucs retained possession and the Packers' scoop and score was erased in a 17-16 Tampa Bay win.
No. 3: Lions receiver Marcus Pollard's 12-yard touchdown catch was overturned by replay review. Look at that play 1,000 times from any angle and there's no way 10 people in a room would agree on the outcome. That means, by definition, the replay is inconclusive.
In the NFL Digest of Rules, there is one that excludes all others: "A decision will be reversed only when the referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him that warrants a change." Referee Gerry Austin thought he had it, but the debate alone tells you he did not.
All that said, the Bucs don't have to apologize for being 4-0.
They have the No.1 defense in the NFL and are first against the run. They have a dynamic rookie running back in Cadillac Williams, assuming he hasn't been wrecked for the season, who set an NFL rushing record for first-year players.
And they have had their share of calls and bounces go against them the past two seasons, so it just might be payback time.
"You make your own success, too," Jets coach Herm Edwards said. "A lot of games in this league are played very closely. After you win or lose, people forget that down the road. But I think as a coach, and players even know that there are a couple of plays in games, especially tight games, that if you make them, you win them. Whether it be by three points, one point, 10 points, but you make the plays to win the game. And that's what good teams do when they're winning."
On the other hand, teams with bad records just seem to have bad luck. Take the Jets.
They lost starting quarterback Chad Pennington and backup Jay Fiedler to season-ending injuries in a span of seven plays Sept.25 against the Jaguars.
"When you're not winning very consistently, a couple of things come to mind," Edwards said. "You're not making the play, you can have some injuries that also play a big part in the National Football League with a lot of teams. You get certain guys injured, obviously, it's very difficult to replace that guy. We all say we have great backup players, which we do, but at the end of the day, you can't lose too many of your good players."
CADILLAC QUESTION: Bucs coach Jon Gruden is getting annoyed at the suggestion that the team rest Williams against the Jets and maybe the Dolphins on Oct. 16, giving him nearly a month to recover from a foot strain, including the Oct.23 bye week. In a way, it makes sense. You've got two very winnable games using Michael Pittman at running back, and you want Williams for the tough November schedule against division opponents.
But the Bucs believe Williams has to learn to play through the pain, especially since he is such a big part of the team's success. For an example, he can look to Jets running back Curtis Martin, who has started 111 straight games and missed practice this week with a knee injury. "Maybe somebody ought to tell John Tortorella he shouldn't play Martin St. Louis so much," Gruden said of the Lightning's coach. "He's a pretty small guy and he might get hurt."
SACK PARTY: The fact the Bucs have the No.1 defense overall and against the run should play to their strength, which is pressuring the quarterback. Yet, Tampa Bay's defensive line has accounted for just five sacks, three by Simeon Rice. And two were credited to Rice when he touched down the quarterback, who had fallen behind the line of scrimmage.