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Bucs want this 'guest' to leave


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000

TAMPA -- This is where doubt lives. This is where it germinates, where it nourishes and then begins to grow. Lose a couple of games and it tiptoes into your house, often unannounced and always through the back door.

If you're not careful, it can consume you, mess up your head so much you start questioning your own mother.

Doubt lives here now. Run out of NFL cities like Washington, New York and Detroit, it has come here to settle amongst the Bucs.

You know it's here because you sense it in the nervous voices of Bucs fans who fear the back-to-back losses to the Jets and the 'Skins foretell a season that ends well before the Super Bowl. You hear it when Sunday afternoon defensive tackles and wide receivers turn into Monday morning quarterbacks. You know who they are.

Is there that little faith in this team?

Sure, things don't look so good right now. When your team has lost two in a row, the Vikings wouldn't exactly be what you'd call a confidence-builder. That would be the Bengals or the Chargers.

The Bucs easily could get shown up in front of a national television audience Monday night, which pretty much would kiss their division title hopes goodbye. Then you're talking about trying to possibly win playoff games on the road. Maybe in places like Washington or Green Bay. In January when it might be freezing and snowing. Or, even worse, playing in St. Louis where the weather would be the least of their worries.

The offense obviously is still trying to get its legs, not to mention some first downs. The defense, as great as it is, can only do so much.

So, here we are, 3-2 and tied for second with Detroit in the NFC Central.

You know what the Bucs need to do now?

Bench Smoothie King? Nope. Open up the offense? Not really. Throw the ball to Keyshawn more? It couldn't hurt.

More than anything, the Bucs need to just play. Just shut up and play. Sapp and Keyshawn and others undoubtedly have a lot of useful opinions, but save them for team meetings, not for radio shows.

Don't talk about it; be about it.

"It's not overly productive," Tony Dungy said of all the public gripes we've heard this past week. "The most productive thing you can do is practice and get better and play better, and that's what is going to determine how well we do. But it makes for good theater."

The last thing the Bucs need is something counterproductive. Last season when they started 3-4, we didn't hear a lot of whining and finger-pointing, and then they got hot and nearly got to the Super Bowl. The offense was probably worse then, but do you recall any players complaining publicly? Me either.

The danger is that negativity can reproduce. It can start with one or two, but quickly spread to 53.

"The biggest problem you have in situations like this is people feeling like we've got to do this, we've got to change this, we've got to do something differently than what we've done. And generally that's not the case," Dungy said. "Usually you just have to do what you do a little bit better.

"But you can get caught up in, well, if we don't do this, it's not going to be successful. If you get into all that speculation, it can be negative."

In fact, it's times like these when a team ought to be even more tight-lipped than usual. Everybody ought to be so much more focused and fixated on their jobs that they don't have a lot of time to talk to you and me.

Nothing is going to chase away doubt as quickly as winning. If the Bucs stun Minnesota -- and there's reason to believe the Vikings aren't as formidable as their record -- Tampa Bay will be 4-2 and play five of its next seven games at home.

But if the Bucs allow doubt to get settled, it may burrow itself deep into this team and stay awhile. Then everyone will have something to talk about.

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