If Sunday's game wasn't the end of the Bucs' troubles, it was at least the beginning of something good, believes Shaun King
On Monday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' complex, after Head Coach Tony Dungy had concluded his weekly press conference, second-year QB Shaun King followed him into the conference room. Instead of taking the podium, however, King leaned back in a chair in the corner and chatted casually with the writers on hand.
King was relaxed, at ease with the questions. Truthfully, he had never shown any signs of cracking during the Bucs' month of losing, but it was certainly the most pleasant Monday meeting with the press he's had in awhile.
King, you see, had been one of the players under the most intense scrutiny during Tampa Bay's now-defunct four-game losing streak, a fact inescapable for the quarterback of a struggling team. In this case, there was the added issue of the Bucs' new offense under Les Steckel, a work in progress that had been explosive early in the year but inconsistent in recent weeks.
Then came Sunday's 41-point, no-punt explosion against the only undefeated team in the NFL, and suddenly everything was okay. King fielded positive question after positive question this Monday but, just as he refused to panic during the losses, he wasn't overly emotional about his career-best outing against the Vikings. To King, this is just the beginning of what could be a beautiful thing.
"I don't think we ever lost confidence in ourselves," said King. "I go back to what I said at the beginning of the season. We're a new offense, and everybody's still really trying to figure out what they're doing on a consistent basis without thinking. So we can just go out, I call a play and everybody just uses their ability.
"The first three games, we came out and we played pretty much the same type of football. We were moving the ball, we were scoring touchdowns, we were putting up points. And then we had a little lull in there where, okay, we're a little off here, we're a little off there, and it cost us a few ballgames. Sunday, we were back to where we were the first three games. The key for us is to get a little streak going where we play like we did Sunday and not like we did the four weeks before."
King is confident the Bucs can do just that, in part because of the recent struggles. It certainly isn't difficult for a member of Tampa Bay's offense to contrast Sunday's effort with that of the previous month and see where the difference lies.
"I think it's important that we re-establish the confidence and the swagger that we had, but also understand and learn from the four games prior to this one…if we don't come out and play our best for four quarters, that we will lose," said King. "But we also need to understand that we have a very talented team, and if we play at the top of our game, I don't think anybody can beat us."
There was evidence to that effect on Sunday in Raymond James Stadium, particularly when the Buccaneers got inside the 20-yard line. Steckel's offense has been mostly effective in that area, which he calls the Green Zone, but had experienced some troubles making it all the way to the end zone in recent games. Against the Vikings, Tampa Bay got two touchdowns and a field goal on its three Green Zone drives, and also scored a TD on a fourth drive that got exactly to the 20 but not inside of it.
"I felt like we played just like we played the four games before that, except we cut out the mental mistakes and we cut out the turnovers," said King. "That was the difference. Now when we got it into the Green Zone, we scored touchdowns. Now we had chances to make plays and we made the plays. When we had chances to finish drives, we finished them. We didn't throw picks, we didn't fumble, we didn't jump…we false-started a couple of times, but it wasn't in the Green Zone like it had been."
The first time the Bucs reached the Green Zone, early in the first quarter after a fumble recovery, King got the ball into the end zone by giving it to WR Keyshawn Johnson. Later, he preserved another faltering drive by throwing deep on the left sideline to Johnson on third-and-11 from midfield. In fact, six of King's 16 completions ended up in Johnson's hands, for a total of 121 yards. You could call that instant dividends from a meeting that Johnson and King had midweek to discuss how to hook up more effectively.
"I think the thing that should be taken from us meeting is the fact that we were able to meet and come out with an understanding and on the same page," said King. "The biggest key for us is the fact that we had to put aside our egos, each person. Everybody has to compromise sometimes, and I think we were able to do that last week.
" think everybody wants to be successful. We want to be the team that everybody expects us to be, and in order to get there, we have to deny self. Everybody that's here has been on a team and been the focal point, been the guy. So it takes some adjustment sometimes. It's hard when you play football for so long and you've been a 'chief' to be 'Indians', as Hardy (Nickerson) puts it."
Among other things, Johnson wanted King to know that he can make a big play even when he appears to be covered downfield. That appeared to be just what happened on the aforementioned 35-yarder, though King felt that Johnson had beaten CB Robert Tate.
"He had him," said King. "When I saw him line up and Tate had him in single coverage and was pressing, I knew I was going there the whole time."
Could he have felt comfortable delivering that ball to Johnson if he had been well covered?
"You can," said King. "But that's something as a quarterback that you have to develop, because when you throw those into double coverage and they get picked, who does that come back on? It doesn't come back on the receiver! So that's something you build up over time."
King laughed at his own comments, but he followed up with a more serious and more revealing comment.
"But that's what we're talking about when we talk about trust," he said. "Okay, I can depend on this guy. If he doesn't catch it, you know it's not going to get picked."
Johnson, in fact, both caught the ball and drew a pass interference penalty, a fairly typical outcome on an afternoon when virtually everything went right. That meant a Monday afternoon press meeting in which almost everything was positive. King would like to see a few more Mondays like that in the coming months.