QB Shaun King thinks his team will move ahead from Sunday's loss with a valuable lesson
Ask yourself if, on September 2, you would have settled for a 3-1 start by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and an average of 27.5 points per game.
That's where the Bucs stand now, and as heartbreaking as that one loss – a last-minute 21-17 giveaway to the Jets on Sunday – was, it was not season-ending. It also doesn't spell the demise of the Bucs' attack, so productive for three weeks. What it does do is serve as an illustration of what the team has been saying ever since July: this offense may not hit its stride until midseason.
That's the lesson that QB Shaun King, the team's famously even-keeled young leader, takes from Sunday's loss.
"I knew it was going to happen," said King of the Bucs' dip in effectiveness. "I've been saying all along, in our offense we're still learning. We've still got some kinks that we've got to work out. Each week that we've had success, I've said that we weren't as consistent as we'd like to be. This week, it bit us. It's a growing process. I think you'll see a lot about our team how we bounce back. We've got some tough games coming up, and we've got to be prepared and we've got to play better."
Those tough contests are on enemy turf, with this Sunday's upcoming challenge in Washington followed by a Monday night trip to Minnesota. The Bucs need a confident signal-caller for those serious tests, and they still have one.
"I'm fine," said King on a reflective Monday morning. "I never lose confidence in myself. We're human, so we're going to have games like this, especially a young guy. Hopefully, we can keep them to a minimum, but it's something that happens sometimes."
King even feels fine about half of his effort against the Jets. It wasn't his mental approach, according to King, but simply a bad day throwing the football. He took the blame for both of his interceptions, one a deflection off Jacquez Green and one a throw over the head of Keyshawn Johnson, and noted some other missed opportunities, such as the deep pass to Green in the third quarter that nearly hit big.
"I thought my decision making was just as good as it has been all year," he said. "I don't think I threw the ball as well as I have the whole year. I think that was the problem. The one to Quezie (early), he's wide open and I'm behind him and we get it tipped. The one to Keyshawn, I was a little too far with it. I thought I was making good decisions, I just don't think I was as accurate or as sharp as I have been.
"It felt like our timing was off a little bit. Sometimes when you're timing is off, some of the balls don't go where you think they should. It's something that doesn't happen to me too often, but it did yesterday. I'm man enough to stand up and say I made some bad throws. As I mature as a quarterback, hopefully those games will come few and far between."
As they have so far in 2000. King was lauded for his performance after each of the Bucs' first three games, in which he threw a total of four touchdown passes and was not intercepted once. Even with his two-interception, seven-completion day against New York, King's passer rating is still a respectable 82.8, good for seventh in the conference. The quarterbacks for the Bucs' next two opponents, Washington's Brad Johnson (81.5) and Minnesota's Duante Culpepper (76.0), rank eighth and ninth.
King could take solace in those numbers and the Bucs' overall record, but he isn't really in need of comforting. The calm confidence that surprised his teammates and Tampa Bay fans last December appears to be unshakeable and is serving him well on this day.
"I think quarterback is just like cornerback: you've got to have a short memory," said King. "You don't dwell too much on good things, you don't dwell too much on bad things, especially this early in the year. I'm pretty good at just forgetting about it, learning from it and moving on. Nothing we did Sunday will have any impact on the game we have Sunday coming up."
Well, that might not be completely true. Just ask the Bucs have used last January's loss in St. Louis as a motivator, the loss to the Jets will serve as a painful reminder on a smaller scale.
"I think it's good for us to see that, regardless of how talented we are or whether we're playing at home or away, if we make mistakes against good teams, they'll beat us," said King. "I think our mindset is fine. Did they play better than us? No. But did they make plays in the fourth quarter? Yeah, they did. That's a game that we generally don't lose.
"I think this will actually be good for us in the long run. This is a taste in our mouth that we haven't had for a long time. I replayed the game probably six times, and we had so many chances early in the game to really make plays. Whether it was turnovers, whether it was penalties, whether it was just a yard too long to Quez…little stuff like that. We'll be sharper. We'll make those plays down the line, and we'll get wins because of it."
As unshaken as King was on Monday, there was a noticeable deflation in the Tampa Bay area, where premature Super Bowl talk had begun after just three weeks. A win on the road at Washington and/or Minnesota could get the predictions cranked up again. Either way, it won't affect the Bucs' mindset, and it certainly won't affect the unflappable King.
"I don't think we get caught up too much in that," said King. "Inside the locker room, we deal with reality. A lot of times, the media and the fans deal with emotion. Emotion wavers from game to game, whereas we understand that over 16 games it's hard to come out and be perfect each game. You hate to lose one like that, where you're up and you give it away at the end. But it happens sometimes and the good teams bounce back from them."