Vegas can give you a line on just about anything.

From the presidential election, to when we catch Osama bin Laden, to who will prevail between Mr. Kennedy and the Undertaker in the next WWE Smackdown.

But when it comes to how the Bucs will pull themselves out of an 0-2 season opening stumble, there’s no line. That’s because there are no options. The Bucs need their defense to make a difference.

They need a splash play.

They need something.

Now!

“We expect those expectations that because that is the standard we have set here for many years.” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “We set a pretty high standard.”

History tells us that is how it was back in the day and common sense tells us that’s how it’s going to have to be now.

Since Jon Gruden came on board, the Bucs have made a significant effort to enhance the pedigree of the offense. True, some key offensive free agents were added to the mix. Guys like Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius, Ken Dilger and John Wade made a difference. A huge difference.

But for all their steady play in the march to the Super Bowl, it was the defense that turned that wheel.

Remember the 48-21 win over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII? The Bucs defense scored three touchdowns in that game. Three!

Since then, management has done its best to draft new offensive playmakers. No question, Michael Clayton, Cadillac Willams, Chris Simms and  Alex Smith have bright futures. The same applies to linemen like Dan Buenning, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood.

I’m happy for them.

But stop kidding yourselves, today’s Bucs are still about defense and defense will have to scratch a match.

“I definitely think so,” middle linebacker Shelton Quarles said. “It’s a team built on defense, it’s always been. We know that. And it’s up to us to get it turned around. We’ll come around and play well. I don’t think it’s anything but just a matter of us having confidence, doing what we do and believing in ourselves as a defense.”

Obviously, such optimism isn’t shared by everyone across Tampa Bay. Many see a defense getting up in age (six starters are 30 or older). Others see a defensive scheme that teams have grown familiar with, or in the very least, one they have learned to game-plan against.

Quarles said nothing could be further from the truth.

“I don’t think age has anything to do with our past performances,” he said. “If we do our job and don’t over analyze what happened and what other teams are doing, we’ll be fine. No one beats us, we beat ourselves.”

Well, before this ripple turns into a full-scale wave, now is a good time to make that statement count.

“This is a man’s situation,” defensive end Simeon Rice said. “This is why the great ones play this game and the players who we have who are dominant want to play in this game, to pull ourselves out of it. It’s no time to look about what we had and what happened. It’s about this game in a
major way. It’s a game for (me) to come out and shine. That’s all I want to talk about, that’s all I’m interested in and that’s the route I’m taking.”
Could it be this Sunday against the Panthers? And if so, how does it happen and who will provide the moment?

The early odds are on linebacker Derrick Brooks.

He’s as good a candidate as any, even after his interception return for a touchdown was called back last Sunday. This is Tampa and lightening does strike twice.

Or, maybe I’ll take Rice.

He’s got 119 career sacks, including 56.5 in the past four seasons and is due a splash play just about… now.

Maybe Quarles or Greg Spires or Anthony McFarland, or Ronde Barber?

“We pride ourselves in what we’ve been able to do, but we don’t want to rest on the past,” Quarles said. “But, knowing our past, it does give us the ability to get back from a bad start. Our belief in ourselves is all that matters.”

The challenge is even more formidable consider a rash of injuries that finds four starters, McFarland, Kelly, Chris Hovan and Ryan Nece, on the injury report.

Sorry to say, but none of that can matter.

If the Bucs are looking for a spark, then the defense is going to have to provide the flint.

“I think we know that,” Kiffin said. “But, we don’t want to press and try to do too much. We have to concentrate on doing our own job.  Last week, we had guys trying to do too much. We’ve been in this position before and we want to get back to being the defense that we know we are.”

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