Random thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL

1. Isn’t it fun to see the fish wraps scurrying back under their rocks this week? They are falling all over themselves to give grudging praise to the Buccaneers for destroying the Saints at Ray-Jay on Sunday. Why Chicken Little, perhaps the sky isn’t falling after all! Or, at least it isn’t falling this week.

2. You have to admire the fish wrap spirit though. They are still trying to find molehills for mountain-making, even after a 31-14 win that had more big plays in it than Broadway on a November Saturday night. One nefarious little snigger was at the fact that Jeff Garcia actually had different opinions on what some play calls should be than head coach Jon Gruden. Is there a storm cloud in paradise? Perish the thought, fellow fans. Gruden is a guy who loves fiery veteran quarterbacks. One of the reasons he loved Rich Gannon was because Gruden thought their personalities were very similar: in your face, no-nonsense guys that breathe football fire. I am sure the egoist in Jon Gruden would like for all of his play calls to be perfect. However, the realist in him realizes that a smart QB like Garcia on the field will provide invaluable input on what plays to call.

3. OK, so let’s move on to molehill number two: Derrick Brooks left the field for a few snaps in passing situations! Never mind that the wraps have been writing all offseason that Brooks has likely lost a step at 34. Never mind that they harangued him last week for missing on a couple of Shaun Alexander tackles and a deep pass coverage. Never mind that defensive linemen routinely get rotated out to keep fresh. The gasping articles on Monday read that Brooks had never been taken out on passing downs before! Could there be a rift between Derrick Brooks and the coaching staff? Relax, folks. Derrick Brooks is by all accounts a stand-up guy who just wants to win. He cut his own pay voluntarily a couple of years ago to ensure that his team had a chance to compete. If the Bucs win games, do you really think he has a problem with sitting for a few plays? Oh sure, Brooks is a proud warrior and wants to be on the field for every snap. However, when you have a Pro Bowl linebacker in Cato June who is eight years younger and whose bread and butter is pass coverage, I think Derrick gets it that taking a blow to remain fresh every now and then isn’t the worst idea under the Florida sun.

4. Can you imagine this crap? These stories are after a win against the NFC South champs! A blowout even! These wraps are from the same gene pool as the ones that produced “Dewey Defeats Truman” in ’48.

5. And, I have to save some love for one of my favorite talking heads who one short week ago declared both that the season was over and that Cadillac Williams absolutely would not play against the Saints because he was soft. Well, 31-14 and 24 gutty carries plus two touchdowns later, the selective amnesia washing through the airwaves was astonishing this week.

6. Confession of the week: Thank goodness Jon Gruden doesn’t listen to my advice. Run the ball? How about buzz them for 15 yards per attempt and 24 yards per completion? Still don’t know why we couldn’t run, but I won’t argue the results.

7. Readers of this space know that I am not bullish on the Rams this season. While the desperation of an 0-2 team at Ray-Jay next Sunday is always dangerous, I still think this Ram team is on a path for 5-6 wins. The offensive line is injured and weaker than in recent memory. Steven Jackson can be stopped and Marc Bulger (in an heroic, gutsy performance) was savagely pummeled by the 49ers last week. He will be limping into Tampa. And, despite the Franciscans anemic offensive output, the Rams’ defense is still as ugly this year as a Notre Dame football Saturday.

8. Did I tell you about the Pats – Bolts match-up or what? Terrible how all of this cheating led to the Patriots’ winning ways, isn’t it? You know what Sunday night’s game told me most? That Norv Turner, who is an undisputed offensive guru and by all accounts a heck of a nice guy, is just a horrible head coach. That such a collection of talent as the San Diego Chargers have could have been just annihilated by the Patriots was absolutely amazing. The game was completely over before halftime. Stealing signals with Crayola on construction paper worked just fine for the red, white and blue.

9. Remember when Scott Reynolds asked the question about who the young veteran leaders would be on the defense of this team? The next generation that wanted to step up and take the mantle from the greatest generation? Two games in, here is my answer: Hello Barrett Ruud, Cato June, Jermaine Phillips and Chris Hovan. Four leaders that lead by example. I must admit, I’m surprised I am typing Phillips’ name, but the man brought the wood on Sunday in a fashion reminiscent of John Lynch. Reynolds may love Lofa Tatupu, but I am quickly becoming convinced the Bucs’ took the right linebacker for this scheme when they picked Ruud nine slots ahead of him in 2005.

10. How about on offense? Ok, well how about Cadillac playing in pain and lugging the rock 24 times with those aching ribs? How about Michael Clayton, with no catches, exulting over a crushing block that turned a good Joey Galloway gain into a 69-yard touchdown? How about Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood having quietly effective games? Yes, I think there are young leaders on offense too, and I didn’t even mention B.J. Askew or Alex Smith.

11. Well, I am a fan, but not a complete Pollyanna, so what did I see on Sunday that concerned me? I saw the offensive and defensive lines at a standstill with the Saints for most of the game. Yes there was pressure from the front four, but more pressure came from blitzes and I am still waiting for more dominance. Call me greedy. The offensive line produced precious few holes in the running game until the Bucs were up three touchdowns, and Jeff Garcia was still running for his life a bit too much, especially on the first touchdown drive. However, with a nice mix of veterans and youth, the Bucs are a team that can improvise and adapt. Oh they aren’t threatening for another Lombardi yet. However, they can definitely play in a weak NFC.

12. I mean, seriously, who blows them out of the water in the NFC right now? Philly? The Cowboys? Packers? Definitely not the Panthers, but that’s a Dirty Dozen nugget for next week.

13. Baker’s Bonus: Why is it that U.S. airlines are losing the battle for customers and profitability around the world? Given that I am currently sitting on a United Airlines flight to Hong Kong, I can tell you. Terrible business class seats with no flat beds for sleeping (on just a 15 hour flight!) These beds are standard on British Airways, Lufthansa and a raft of Asian airlines like Singapore and Cathay Pacific. They’ll begin rolling it out on United. A couple of planes at a time. In Januray 2008. The food is awful, with not one Chinese entrée for a flight to China. They ran out of the only decent red wine one hour into the flight (“because everyone was drinking it”—sigh), and, there is not a single can or bottle of Chinese beer aboard the plane.And we wonder why US airlines have all been filing Chapter? I feel more quiet desperation than a fish wrap looking to buy a vowel.

Post Script: Plane wound up being diverted to Tokyo for dubious reasons. I rest my case.

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