Flynn's Focus: Relax. It's Only Preseason

August 15 – Tampa Bay did not look like a Super Bowl contender in their first preseason game of the 2001 season, but were fans really expecting the Buccaneers to hoist the Lombardi Trophy into the air at Raymond James Stadium with a win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday night? The Bucs might have lost the game, but they were definitely victorious in other areas that are much more important at this point in the season.

No one is going to deny the fact that there were some disturbing things that came out of Monday night's 17-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins. If one were to have listened to sports talk radio and spent sometime talking to some Bucs' fans after the dust had settled on Tuesday, they would probably come away with the same impression I did. After one preseason game, Tampa Bay fans are ready to throw in the towel on a team that was picked by several national publications to reach and win Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.

Before playing Tampa Bay, Miami had already played a game in the preseason a week earlier against the St. Louis Rams and it certainly showed. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers were working off the rust they had accumulated since losing to the Philadelphia Eagles on December 31, 2000.

Yes, it's probably fair for people to think QB Brad Johnson will not see the entire 2001 season if Tampa Bay's starting offensive line does not improve. Let's face some hard facts. Tampa Bay's starting offensive line is featuring two new starters, one of which is rookie LT Kenyatta Walker. Both Walker and RG Cosey Coleman were taken to school on Monday night by Miami's defense, but this education will be better than any they will receive from their playbook and training camp.

During training camp, DE Simeon Rice and DT Warren Sapp can only come at Walker and Coleman with blanks. When the Bucs line up against another team for a game, the real bullets start to fly. This is exactly what happened to them on Monday night and the Bucs' young linemen were wounded.

Speaking of Johnson, fans are already starting to question the Bucs' decision to sign him for $28 million this offseason. To make things even more interesting at the quarterback position, second-string QB Shaun King and fourth-string QB Joe Hamilton were the most impressive of the Bucs' four quarterbacks. King threw for 109 yards and a touchdown while Hamilton engineered what was the game-winning touchdown until Miami QB Mike Quinn completed a Hail Mary pass to WR Robert Baker with no time remaining for the winning score. Take King and Hamilton's performances with a grain of salt. They faired well, but did not face the Dolphins' first-team defense or the relentless pass rush Johnson and QB Ryan Leaf did on Monday night. Miami recorded four sacks against the Bucs-three on Johnson and one on Leaf.

Tampa Bay's defense has been criticized as well and some of it might be justified. The Bucs' first-team defense surrendered 145-yards of net offense to the Dolphins in the first quarter. But this same defense, who let offenses walk up and down the field on them during the entire 1999 preseason, ended up finishing third in total defense at the end of the regular season that year. The Bucs' defense also nearly defeated the St. Louis Rams, who had the NFL's best offense that season, in the NFC Championship Game.

Perhaps Bucs' fans are overlooking a victory, which should be the most important kind to them, especially after the way this season's training camp began.

The injury bug bit the Buccaneers early and often in training camp. Tampa Bay lost P Mark Royals and Pro Bowl FB Mike Alstott for the preseason due to injuries. The Bucs also lost another fullback when Charles Kirby was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. The Buccaneers have had a number of bumps, bruises and strains work their way around the clubhouse during training camp, but they were fortunate enough to avoid any serious injuries on Monday night.

The Buccaneers have plenty of time to work out the kinks in their offense, defense and special teams. If Tampa Bay struggles against New England in their third preseason game the way they did against Miami, then this might be reasonable cause for concern, but before Tampa Bay riots, just remember one thing.

The preseason can be very deceiving and misleading. There are more important things in the preseason than wins and losses. Championships are not won in the preseason, but if the injury bug finds its way around a clubhouse, it can certainly be lost.

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