Proper wind currents? Check!

Air traffic clearance? Check!

Suitable carcass? Ah, check!

The NFL buzzards aren’t yet airborne, but they’re beginning their preflight walk through. Something foul is in the air.

Despite moments of heroic play by a rookie quarterback and finally some motoring of a Cadillac previously kept in the garage, the Bucs are now 0-4 and facing a stretch of four games that offer the faithful the Bengals, Eagles, Giants and Saints, again.

Combined record? Try 13-5.

Sad to say Bucs fans, that’s the good news.

The real disturbing revelation is that after falling 24-21 in New Orleans Sunday, in a game which they seemed to be doing so much right, the Bucs still found a way to do something wrong.

In previous debacles, you could have pointed to the quarterback. Then, perhaps the defense. Then, maybe, the quarterback, the defense, the team doctor, the bad Gatorade, the traffic, the poor pillows at the hotel and/or the wrong person voted off Survivor.

Just about any reason for their football futility would have applied.

But now, it’s worse.

Much worse.

“We’re inventing ways to lose games by the week,” cornerback Ronde Barber told reporters in a candid moment after the game. “It’s kind of disgusting actually, hard to swallow.”

The crestfallen will say that Reggie Bush’s 65-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter was the difference. It was, but only because that not-so-special teams play was a microcosm of a far bigger issue the Bucs had Sunday, and all year for that matter – this elite defense has forgotten how to tackle.

Yes, Bush has got some F-14 maneuverability but dang, just how many more missed tackles were the Bucs going to perform?

“It’s a situation where you have to wrap up and we didn’t do a good job of that (Sunday),” cornerback Brian Kelly told reporters. “At the end of the day, when you look at the film, I think (poor tackling) will have a lot to do with it. A lot of it is wrapping up and being in a position to make a tackle.”

Once again, the Bucs weren’t. All told, Bush and Deuce McAllister rushed for 143 yards, including a 15-carry, 123-yard effort by McAllister that produced a highlight reel of some of the saddest tackling ever produced by a Monte Kiffin defense.

“If we could tackle worth a damn in the first half they probably don’t score a touchdown,” Barber said of the Bucs' evident inability to put the opponent to the ground. “It’s a problem. It has been for a while. It’s unacceptable. It’s not our standard, and until we start living up to it, we’re probably going to continue to lose.”

Now that’s a sobering thought.

“It is what it is. It’s not good,” coach Jon Gruden said. “People will continue to take their shots at us and that’s well understood.”

Here’s a slightly more sobering thought. Tampa Bay’s display is beginning to resemble some of the efforts of the pre-Malcolm Glazer days. Think of the Hugh Culverhouse era, when winning was such a blasphemous word that if overheard in the hallways of One Buc Place, it would elicit a reaction best described as cruel and unusual punishment.

Receiver Michael Clayton said the Bucs are going to keep a positive feeling around the locker room, but admits that the team has “dug ourselves a hole and we’re digging and there’s no daylight right now.”

Okay, perhaps things aren’t that bad, but don’t blink.

The Bucs professionalism and pride will keep them seeing the glass as half full, rather than one leaking steadily from the bottom.

They will point to the improved play of the offense, the spectacular effort of Bruce Gradkowski in his first ever start, the steady effort of an offensive line that gave him time to make plays.

They will talk about the season being divided into four four-game quarters and how the goal will now be to turn attention to the second quarter of the season.

“We will try to be 1-4 by (this) Sunday (against the Bengals),” receiver Joey Galloway said. “We’ll go correct some things, carry on our work. That’s the only thing we can do…. We’re going to win. That’s not a question (whether) we’re going to win or not.”

Well, okay then! 

Copyright 2006

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