By JOHN ROMANO, Times Columnist
Published December 3, 2007
Talk of the town
Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio.
1. Who said anything about a hot seat? The Boy Genius is growing older. Jon Gruden is 44 and no longer the hottest commodity in the land. But now that he is one victory shy of his third division title in six seasons, Gruden should once again be considered among the NFL's elite.
2. Enjoying the big O: An offense came to life on Sunday. Granted, the Saints are the Lightning of the NFL when it comes to defense, but the Bucs still deserve some credit. Look at it this way: Before Sunday, Tampa Bay had lost 11 consecutive games when giving up more than 21 points.
3. Groovy call, dude: The league is worried about performance-enhancing drugs. After the Saints tried a toss reverse while trying to kill the clock, perhaps the NFL should crack down on mind-altering drugs, too.
4. Grit instead of glitz: Reggie Bush has the Heisman Trophy, the commercials and the fat contract. What he does not have is Earnest Graham's game.
5. Guts or logic? Think Gruden was rolling the dice by skipping a 46-yard field-goal attempt on fourth and 1 in the final minutes? Matt Bryant has been close to automatic on short kicks but since hitting his 62-yard game-winner is only 5-of-10 on field goals of 44 yards or more.
A list of five
Five questions to ponder before the playoffs.
5. Has a punter ever won the MVP before?
4. Will the FCC make Fox put a parental warning on Gruden's forehead?
3. Can the Bucs convince other teams to hire Sean Payton?
2. Is this more exciting than Jake Plummer's handball tournament?
1. How much will season tickets cost now?
Five starting debuts for Bucs QBs
1. Late in 1976, Terry Hanratty replaced Steve Spurrier for a start against his former Pittsburgh teammates. Hanratty completed 1 of 4 passes for minus-1 yard and an interception. The Bucs lost 42-0. Surprisingly, it was Hanratty's only Tampa Bay start.
2. Doug Williams was 1-of-5 with one interception on Sept. 17, 1978, Steve Young was 16-of-27 for 167 yards on Nov. 24, 1985, and Trent Dilfer was 7-of-23 for 45 yards on Oct. 23, 1994. All three would later win a Super Bowl - but not for the Bucs. (And, yes, this will be more than five QBs. So sue me.)
3. Bruce Gradkowski was 20-of-31 for two touchdowns and 225 yards in his starting debut last season. Just a point of perspective.
4. Vinny Testaverde was 22-of-47 for 369 yards with two INTs and two TDs on Dec. 6, 1987. The Bucs lost 44-34. It was the greatest Bucs debut until ...
5. Of the 31 starting quarterbacks in franchise history, Luke McCown can now lay claim to the most impressive debut. It was not just the 313 passing yards, or the longest run from scrimmage by a Bucs quarterback in eight years, or the 78.3 completion percentage. It was the victory. On the road. Against a division opponent.
Five super picks
Checking out the best bets for Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Ariz.
1. Patriots: Riding Mitt Romney's coattails.
2. Cowboys: Only Jessica Simpson could ruin this season.
3. Packers: Their upcoming schedule is even easier than Tampa Bay's.
4. Colts: I've never seen a 10-2 team look quite so shaky.
10. Bucs: Three division titles from 1976-2001. Gruden is about to win his third since 2002.
Final five words
Getting better all the time.