5 plays the Bucs wish hadn't happened
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 29, 1998
he Bucs are five plays from clinching a playoff spot today with a win over the Bears.
Of course, we'll excuse you for not wanting to light a victory cigar. But if not for a missed tackle here, a fumble there, a blown call everywhere, they might be making post-season plans this Thanksgiving weekend instead of looking like such turkeys.
We've done the research. The only thing Bucs fans would want back more than these five plays is their charter seat deposits money.
"It's been a play here or a play there that has cost us games," said defensive tackle Brad Culpepper. "Was the 70-yard run by Fred Taylor worse than the 71-yard run by Steve McNair? I don't think so. They were both bad plays. ... It seems like every game there's been one."
What did the Bucs do to deserve this low five?
NO. 1, TAYLOR MADE: In an informal sampling of Bucs players and coach Tony Dungy, whose vote counts the most, Fred Taylor's game-winning, 70-yard touchdown run with 2:40 remaining in Jacksonville's 29-24 victory was the most jagged dagger in their heart.
The Bucs defense had done a decent job of containing Taylor until that play. And even though the offense had failed to run out the clock -- it needed one first down -- the defense had confused Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell with an array of blitz packages and were confident he couldn't drive his team for a winning score in the two-minute drill.
"It's got to be the draw play at Jacksonville," said Bucs safety John Lynch, who slipped on the play when Taylor cut back. "If we have that back, we stop them there." Its confidence shaken, the Bucs defense allowed 21 first-half points the next week against Detroit.
Dishonorable mention: Trent Dilfer's failure to run for a possible first down on third-and-9 from the Bucs 22. Instead, he fired an incomplete pass over the head of rookie Jacquez Green. "It's one of those plays that haunts you," Dilfer said. "If I run, I probably make the first down."
NO. 2, THE FAIR CATCH: No game haunts the Bucs like their 9-3 defeat at New Orleans, interrupting what would have become a four-game winning streak.
Trailing 6-3, receiver Bert Emanuel appeared to have made a diving catch of a 14-yard pass from Dilfer in the end zone. Officials ruled the ball hit the ground, but replays showed it was a good reception. The Bucs were forced to settle for Michael Husted's 32-yard field goal attempt to tie the score, but he missed wide left.
"If I had that power, it'd go way back and springboard us to a more successful season," receiver Reidel Anthony said. "So many haven't gone our way. They just keep turning up each game.
"The touchdown they missed to Bert. When they missed that call, it seemed like they missed all the obvious calls after that. That's what started our streak of bad luck."
Dishonorable mention: Trailing 9-3 late in the fourth quarter, Green dropped what likely would have been a 62-yard touchdown bomb from Dilfer.
NO. 3, THE BOOTLEGGER: Okay, so they blew a 16-3 halftime lead to the Tennessee Oilers. Big deal. The Bucs were back, having marched 79 yards for a touchdown on Dilfer's 10-yard pass to Anthony to cut Tennessee's lead to 24-22.
Oilers running back Eddie George carried for one first down. Then, on third-and-8 from the Oilers 29 with two minutes to play, quarterback Steve McNair bootlegged into the waiting arms of Tyoka Jackson. But the Bucs defensive end failed to wrap up McNair, who raced 71 yards for a touchdown.
"We knew what was coming," Jackson said. "We felt they'd give the ball to their playmaker. He made a great play. I wanted to make sure he didn't get outside. I didn't give my team a chance to win at the end, and that's what hurts."
The defeat deflated all the momentum gained in the stunning upset of Minnesota a week earlier.
Dishonorable mention: The Oilers had just taken a 17-16 lead when linebacker Jeff Bowden made a one-handed interception of Dilfer's pass intended for Anthony and walked into the end zone from 1-yard out with 10:58 left in the game.
NO. 4, THE PHANTOM HOLD: If you don't think officials can determine the outcome of a game, you weren't paying attention Thursday when they botched an overtime coin toss in the Steelers-Lions game.
Desperately fighting back from two touchdowns against Detroit last week, the Bucs appeared to have tied the score at 17 by taking the second-half kickoff and driving 78 yards. But Anthony's 12-yard reception for a touchdown was called back for holding on guard Jorge Diaz. The Bucs were forced to settle for Husted's 33-yard field goal and never caught up, losing 28-25.
It was the sixth holding penalty of the season on Diaz, but this one was undeserved. Replays show he wasn't blocking anyone. "That holding call cost us the game, basically," Diaz said. "I just don't see what they saw. I don't understand why they threw the flag. If you make a bad call, okay. But when you're taking points off the board, you just can't have it."
The loss means the Bucs hold no tiebreakers over the Lions or the Cardinals if all three teams finish 9-7.
Dishonorable mention: In position at the Detroit 11 to possibly send the game into overtime with a field goal, Dilfer's pass to Green was tipped at the line of scrimmage by the Lions' Mike Chalenski and deflected off the Bucs receiver to diving safety Ron Rice for an interception in the end zone.
NO. 5, HAPE FEAR: Tight end Patrick Hape has made plenty of mistakes this season. But none hurt his team as badly as his fumble in New Orleans.
Green returned the first punt of the game 55 yards to give the Bucs the ball at the Saints 25 on their first possession.
Dilfer passed to Emanuel for one first down. Then, on second and 9, Hape fumbled a pass at the Saints 3 when he was hit by linebacker Kevin Mitchell. Safety Sammy Knight recovered.
The Bucs offense had not scored a touchdown in the first half up to that point and an easy score there might have propelled them to a 30-point victory.
Dishonorable mention: Bryant Westbrook's 34-yard interception return for a touchdown at Detroit on the first possession of the second half with the Bucs trailing 6-3.