Go Eagles. You da man, Donovan.
Hey, Brian Westbrook. You rock!
It has come down to this for fans of Tampa Bay’s NFL team: Root for the Philadelphia Eagles.
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The Eagles have to beat the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday for the Buccaneers to reach the playoffs. It’s that simple. Bucs win, Eagles win, Bucs are in. Cowboys win and America’s most dysfunctional team goes to the playoffs no matter what the Bucs do against the visiting Oakland Raiders.
Tony Romo lives.
What a mess.
And this was a team that was 9-3 and feeling pretty good about itself as November turned into December.
Then Lane Kiffin was hired at the University of Tennessee, and the Monte Kiffin-to-Rocky Top rumors started, and the Bucs defense went into the tank.
Just a coincidence, Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said.
OK. Probably so.
The Bucs defense played well enough to win at Atlanta. It was the offense without quarterback Jeff Garcia that cost the Bucs that game.
But in the Monday night game at Carolina that started this losing streak and Sunday’s 41-24 loss to the visiting San Diego Chargers that extended the slide to three games, it was the defense that was gashed.
They miss tackles, they blow coverages, they give up points and more points.
“If we score 17 points we expect to win the game,” Ruud said.
The Bucs scored 17 at Carolina and lost.
They scored 24 against the Chargers and lost.
“We’ve run into three good offenses,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
It’s more than that, though.
“We’ve stopped some pretty good offenses this year,” Ruud said.
It wouldn’t be a shock if it was the offense that suddenly stop producing, if Garcia was lost for more than just one game and the Bucs were forced to hold on to their playoff spot with Brian Griese or Luke McCown.
As it is, the Bucs offense hasn’t been too bad when you consider it basically consists of Garcia and the two Bryants — split end Antonio Bryant and kicker Matt Bryant.
Both Bryants are having career years.
Gruden even found a way to do what he indicated last week was impossible — have Antonio Bryant and Joey Galloway on the field at the same time.
Didn’t matter, because the Bucs defense, brilliant for the first dozen games this season, couldn’t stop Charger quarterback Phillip Rivers, allowing the most points at home at home since 1993, when Warrick Dunn was a rookie at Florida State.
They were embarrassed.
And the long faces and blank looks in the Bucs locker told the story.
“I’m a sore loser,” Antonio Bryant said.
Another 100-yard receiving day meant little to the receiver.
“I can’t deal with losing,” Bryant said. “I hate losing.”
But losing is all the Bucs are good at this month.
They took a 24-20 lead into the fourth quarter and lost. The defense gave up big plays, and Garcia was intercepted twice.
The Bucs were either tied or held the lead in the fourth quarter of each loss during this skid.
“The simple fact is we haven’t played good football,” Gruden said.
“We start pressing a little bit. You start thinking about what’s going on. You try to do too much,” Ruud said. “For 12 weeks we played great on defense. We road that through every game, and all of a sudden we have some adversity, and we haven’t and we haven’t faced it very well, yet.”
Normally it’s the Bucs defense that causes the adversity. It was earlier this year against the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.
Now it’s the Bucs defense that’s blinking and the Bucs playoff chances that are sinking.
The Cowboys, once reeling without Romo, control their destiny.
The Bucs, once 9-3, need help.