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Weather was bad, but Bucs were worse

Unless we find out that the wind blew away several pages of Jon Gruden’s game plan — which would explain a lot — you can’t blame this one the weather.

By GARY SHELTON
Published October 29, 2006


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Okay, it was windy. Let’s get that out of the way early.

Yep, there sure was wind at Giants Stadium Sunday afternoon. It came whipping across the plain, gusting in from up Secaucus way, a-huffin’ and a-puffin’ and a-threaten’ to blow down a house of straw.

In other words, the wind blew.

The offense, too.

We bring you this weather report because, judging from the talk after the game, the Bucs really, really want you to know how annoying those darned breezes were Sunday afternoon. Immediately after losing a 17-3 game to the New York Giants, the Bucs spent so much time talking about the wind you might have thought they were selling sailboats.

And, yeah, let’s be fair. It was downright gusty, and it was a little cold, and yeah, it turned a few spirals into knuckleballs. As weather goes, this was, well, inconvenient.

On the other hand, three points.

Three.

Unless we find out that the wind blew away several pages of Jon Gruden’s game plan — which would explain a lot — you can’t blame this one the weather. In a league where teams win on icy fields and in freezing temperatures, you can’t pin this one on the elements. It was the Giants who blew away the Bucs. Them, and the Bucs’ feeble attempts at a feeble game plan.

Here’s the thing: The worse you believe the wind was, the worse the Bucs’ plans at combating it seem to be. If the weather was really rotten, if there were tornadoes at the first-down marker and monsoons at the goal line, shouldn’t the Bucs have been determined to run the ball? Isn’t that the Man Law of coaching? That worse the elements, the bloodier the knuckles? That sort of thing?

Let’s see. It was windy, and so the Bucs decided to abandon the run? Come again?

It was windy, and so the Bucs let a rookie quarterback throw the ball 48 times? Excuse me?

It was windy, and so the Bucs decided to forget about their game plan even though they trailed by only 11 points? Is that right?

Not the Bucs. After falling behind 14-0, the Bucs called passes on 16 of their final 18 plays of the second quarter, on 12 of their 13 in the third, on 14 of their 16 in the fourth. Gee. Maybe Gradkowski’s arm was in motion so much, it caused the wind.

On the day, Cadillac Williams ran the ball eight times. If you’re keeping track, that’s one attempt for every six Gradkowski passes. (For comparison’s sake, it was windy for the Giants, too, and they ran the ball 35 times. Perhaps their windbreakers were better.)

The result was that old familiar futility. It was the fourth time in seven games this season the Bucs have failed to score an offensive touchdown. This time, it came against a Giants defense that was missing three starters from a unit that was ranked only 21st in the league coming in.

Yet, there was not one drive, not one moment, when it felt as if the Bucs were on the verge of scoring.  After a while, you began to wonder how many defenders the Giants would have to take off the field before the Bucs could score.

Here they don’t go again. The Bucs’ offense, in its 30th year of infancy, still cannot get out of its own way. They are last in the NFL in scoring. The Bucs cannot run, they cannot pass and, from the looks of things, they cannot think.

A hundred times, maybe two hundred, you have seen a Bucs offense struggle this way, and by now, you are out of adjectives. You used up “abysmal” back in ’76, and you wore out “wretched” during the Leeman Bennett Years. Ray Perkins had a trademark on “dreadful” and Richard Williams coined “awful.” Sam Wyche was good for “bewildered” and Tony Dungy owned “plodding.”

So what are we to say about the offense of Jon Gruden, former genius? This offense was terrible the first day Gruden saw it, and five years later, it is even worse. There is no idea on first and 10, no clue on second and 8 and no hope on third and 1. As for fourth down, it seems to bewilder the dickens out of everyone involved. As for the game plan, it always seems to come with an eraser.

For the Bucs, the cold had to feel a bit like reality. Despite their problems, the Bucs had won two in a row coming in, and another victory was going to feel like a new lease on a season. At 3-4, a team can dream. A performance like this is like the return of a rash, however. It suggests that the problems never went away.
When you get down to it, that was the real problem with the wind on Sunday.

From the feel of it, it carried off a team’s possibilities.

Gary Shelton can be reached at gshelton@sptimes.com