By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 10, 2001
Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio:
THE OFFENSE: The Bucs used to be bland, predictable and punchless on offense. The new-look Bucs are fresh, daring and punchless on offense.
BIG PLAYS: You cannot toss a jockstrap without hitting a Pro Bowl veteran in the locker room, yet the Bucs seem woefully short when it comes to momentum-shifting, game-altering, big plays.
REPLACEMENT OFFICIALS: This may be the first time in league history that an officiating crew converted more third downs than the home offense.
QUINCY CARTER: The Cowboys anticipate expanding the game plan for their rookie quarterback. They're just waiting for him to master the Georgia playbook first.
CHASING GASTINEAU: Conceding that Carter spent less time in the pocket than a 12-year-old's allowance, the starting line still whiffed when it came to sacks. The fellas are clanging their drink cups at Rikers Island.
Five explanations for Tampa Bay's woeful offense:
5: Have too much respect for Jerry Jones to run the score up against Dallas.
4: A blatant attempt to woo Ryan Leaf back.
3: The all-you-can-eat Tex-Mex buffet Warrick Dunn visited Saturday night.
2: Want to perfect those 5-yard passes first.
1: What do you mean the offense was woeful?
Checking out the best bets (and the Bucs) for Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans:
1. RAMS: The league's best offense no longer has to be ashamed of its defense.
2. BRONCOS: Terrell Davis looks healthy, which is bad news for Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and every defense in the AFC.
3. COLTS: Jim Mora's reputation hinges on this season. Either he breaks through in the postseason, or he goes down as the coach who couldn't win a big game.
4. RAVENS: They sneak into the Top 5 on the basis of last year. But Elvis Grbac still has to prove he is a dramatic upgrade from Trent Dilfer.
8. BUCS: It's kind of difficult to make an argument as a Super Bowl contender when Carter still has a chance to beat you in the final minute of his NFL debut.
Five Bucs players who deserve to take a bow:
BRIAN KELLY: The Cowboys were within a yard of a touchdown. Emmitt Smith, who has found more paths to the end zone than any back in the NFL, was sprinting to the outside when he was stuffed by Kelly.
AARON STECKER: You have to admire his chutzpah. Five yards from the nearest Cowboy, he insisted he was pushed from behind when he was called for interfering with a punt returner.
KEYSHAWN JOHNSON: Playing most of the game on a bum leg was admirable. Continuing to carry out his blocking assignments was inspiring.
JACQUEZ GREEN: On the game's only touchdown drive, he caught three passes for first downs, including two in third-down situations.
DERRICK BROOKS: You gotta love him. Even when he is supposed to be blocking -- as on Dexter Jackson's interception -- he still is the best tackler on the field.
No reason to panic. Yet.