A season-long fear rears its head one final, crushing time: offense lets defense down.
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2000
ST. LOUIS -- Time and time again this season, the Bucs offense has found one drop of refreshment amid a desert of inconsistency.
Time and time again, the Bucs won by scoring just enough and letting the defense do the rest.
Time and time again, there have been critical sacks, crucial interceptions and failures on third and short.
Sunday, the well ran dry.
The Bucs, who won 12 games with the NFL's 28th-ranked offense, mustered 203 yards. The result was an 11-6 loss and a deep sense of embarrassment over the team's offensive futility.
"We had opportunities and we didn't execute them on offense," tight end Dave Moore said. "My heart goes out to the defense. They played so hard all year and they kept us in there. I went over to a couple of the guys and I actually thanked them because they kept us in it. I feel bad for those guys."
Added offensive tackle Jerry Wunsch: "It was an all-around rough day. It was loud out there trying to hear the snap count, but really the problem was execution. We have to execute no matter what. We weren't able to overcome it today."
But as they cleared out their lockers and packed their pads away for the lengthy off-season, some Bucs could not help but think what might have been ... if the offense had done its job.
Receiver Jacquez Green, whose 32-yard reception was one of the few bright spots, said the Bucs have to take a strong look at their offensive play calling.
"I don't think we attack the defense enough and I don't think we take advantage of the mismatches enough," said Green, who finished with four catches for 59 yards. "Other than when Warrick (Dunn) is on a linebacker, we don't (take advantage of mismatches). If we score 17 points, we win every game because of the defense we have.
"When we go on four (wide receivers), they had their corners right up on me or Bert (Emanuel), and we could have beaten those guys the whole game. This typifies the whole season I guess."
But blame can't fall solely on the shoulders of the passing game. Heralded as one of the game's top rushing teams, the Bucs finished with 77 yards. Dunn had 35 yards on nine carries and fullback Mike Alstott added 39 on 12.
"It hurts to lose," Dunn said. "We couldn't capitalize in the red zone. We couldn't do the little things. I think we have to go back and analyze what we're doing as an offense and see how we can get better, how we can improve. We have a lot of talented guys and I think each person has to know their role and the coaches have to know how talented (are the guys who need to) make plays. They have to know where to put guys and how to be consistent at doing it."
Green said that winning games scoring 13 and six points, as the Bucs did against Denver and Chicago, will not get the team in the Super Bowl.
"We've always been just good enough to win and obviously against a team like St Louis we had to come with our A-game," Green said. "It was just a matter of when it caught up with us and it caught up with us today."
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