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The offense still needs a Gramatica kick-start

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 19, 2001


CLEVELAND -- For those of you who continue to be disappointed in a Bucs offense that continues to be disjointed, we bring you the following encouraging news from the front.

Martin Gramatica feels fine.

After two weeks, that's all ye know, and perhaps all ye need know. Gramatica still has plutonium in his shoe. Most offenses measure their success by yards. The Bucs measure theirs by feet. Notably, the foot on Gramatica's right leg.

Gramatica kicked one field goal Saturday night, then he kicked another. On this team, that constitutes a 1-2 punch. Say what you want about the misfires on downs one through three, but when Gramatica is sighting down a goal post, the Bucs offense looks to be in midseason form.

Okay, okay. It's true the rest of the first-team offense sputtered for the second straight week in Saturday night's 7-6 loss to a bad Browns team. Is that news? The Bucs, by and large, have been struggling on offense for a quarter of a century, and from the looks of it they are no closer to clearing the thicket than they ever have been.

On the other foot, Gramatica kicked for 101 yards.

In the city of Lou the Toe, this was the return of Martin the Machine. This would be a fine time for Gramatica to ask for a raise. If the first two weeks are any indication, he may be the first kicker to sue his teammates for nonsupport. Who knows? If everyone stays out of the little guy's way, he might kick for a thousand yards.

When last we paid attention to Gramatica, of course, it was in the aftermath of a lost game in Green Bay, when his field goal drifted right and carried the season with it. It was a critical kick, one that cost the Bucs an open week and a home game and perhaps a shot at the NFC Championship Game, and at no time during the 6,817,412 times it has been mentioned has Gramatica hidden his disappointment at missing it.

A kick like that, a miss like that, can gnaw at a kicker until it ruins him. A thousand times, a kicker replays that sort of kick, and every time it falls to the right, and every time he knows what was on the line. As talented as Gramatica is, there were those who worried about scar tissue on his psyche.

The good news is that, from the looks of it, Gramatica has recovered just fine. He might kick 40 field goals. The bad news is that he may only have three or four shots at an extra point.

"He's the best in the league," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "They call him Automatica for a reason. No way he's going to let one miss get to him. He's tougher than that."

It has been 237 days since that miss, and the only other time Gramatica has looked at a field goal was a 29-yard chip shot against Philadelphia in the Bucs' playoff loss. Not that anyone's counting.

"I usually say a bad word to whoever brings up that kick, but this time, I won't," Gramatica said, grinning. "I don't like to talk about that kick. I don't even like to think about it."

For the rest of the world, however, there might be a sigh of relief involved after he hit field goals of 43 and 58 yards against the Browns. "It's natural to think about it," safety John Lynch said. "Obviously, we know how many games he's won for us, or kept us close in. And he's been hitting it well in practice. But until you do it in a game, you never know."

Bucs coach Tony Dungy said he never worried about Gramatica's confidence failing.

"Not for a minute," Dungy said, "because of the type of person he is. Whenever he misses a kick, he knows exactly why he missed it. I never expect him to go into a slump. He's going to make most of his kicks, and most of his big ones."

The thing is, Gramatica may have to kick six or seven a game for the Bucs, the way the rest of the offense is going. Two games down and it remains difficult to fathom what the rest of the offense is trying to accomplish, except that having only six men on the line of scrimmage seems to be a very important part of the strategy. What? Did someone buy a CFL playbook at a rummage sale? If so, did he keep the receipt?

On the other hand, could someone get Gramatica a pillow for his foot?

"This is the first time Simeon (Rice) has seen Martin," Sapp said. "He was going wild on the sideline, saying, "It's fourth down.' I said, "Sit down, Martin's got the ball.' He said, "But it's 58 yards or something.' I said, "No problem.' "

Two weeks to go until the regular season, and it's time the offense moved forward. It needs to show a little explosion, a little danger.

Either that, or it needs to hope for a lot more Gramatica.

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