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The offense gives hope

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 10, 2000


MINNEAPOLIS -- Now that's offense. Win, lose or draw, Monday night's big, probing eye watched as the Bucs loudly, entertainingly answered a world of critics -- including their fans, who were understandably ravenous for enhanced offense, and maybe even some rising doubts among Tampa Bay teammates.

Shaun King, after back-to-back flights of fright against the Jets and Redskins, had the look of a quarterback who can win. Win consistently. Win big. Win enough in 10 remaining games to get Tampa Bay back into legitimate Super Bowl contention.

At last, the Bucs were firing the football downfield, finding receptive hands in Jacquez Green, Keyshawn Johnson and Dave Moore, showing they are capable, especially King. They also were throwing changeup pitches with deft little screen passes to Warrick Dunn, making it easier for Mike Alstott and Dunn to find gaps for running.

For the first time in three weeks, there was productive offense. Where has that been? King's confidence kept rising. His toughness has never been in doubt. His decisions improved. Production took a major jump.

Daunte Culpepper, a 266-pound quarterbacking behemoth from Central Florida, made killer plays for Minnesota. He is a scary talent. But the impact of Culpepper was so less imposing than the Monday night emergence of King.

Bring on the next 10 games, beginning with the Detroit Lions in nine days. Maybe the cogs and bolts of the Bucs offense are beginning to kick in. We'll be surer if it happens against the Lions, then again and again.

From 3-0 luxury, the Bucs stumbled toward 0-3 misery. In the Metrodome backwash, we may hear Tampa Bay players say that at least 3-3 is better than last season's 3-4 start.

Back it up, gents.

We saw the Tampa Bay defensive and offensive makings against the Vikes. Still, due to the extreme skills of Minnesota receiver Randy Moss, the job became so difficult. Lately, among the Bucs, there had been too much talk, not enough walk.

It took just 24 seconds for the Bucs to dig a nasty hole against the unbeaten Vikings. Tampa Bay's first goal was to muzzle the Metrodome crowd, dampening the mood with a nice dose of guest efficiency. That one backfired quicker than a '57 Edsel.

On the first play, Randall McDaniel, the old Viking, false started. Johnson caught a pass but then fumbled. To compete the Bucs' troika of pain, on Minnesota's first chance, Culpepper went running like a purple tank, scrambling 27 yards for a touchdown.

After that, the Bucs were the better team, except for committing fumblitis suicide. For a third straight week, Tampa Bay could so easily have won but didn't.

That's got to stop.

Okay, the losses are bruised history. Maybe it's weird, on a defeat streak, but I think the Bucs are going to be okay. They may not catch Minnesota in the NFC Central, but they will grind their way, the hard way, to a playoff shot.

By then, if the Bucs defense doesn't physically disintegrate, and if the King offense continues to build on the treats, tricks and confidence, the fun Sundays will be back at Raymond James Stadium.

Blowing one against the Jets, that was much worse than Monday night in Minneapolis. From this loss came far more hope than a week earlier with the mishap in Washington.

King may be no Daunte Culpepper. We'll see. But Shaun could be every bit the winner -- if this was the real King indicator, and not those flunks against the Jets and 'Skins.

We saw a little Bob Griese in No. 10's play. Smart stuff. Making the critical pass with far more consistency. All that opening better opportunities for running backs Alstott and Dunn.

Something on which to build.

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