DENVER — At this point, you can defend Brian Griese. After all, he managed six whole points.
At this point, you can demand Jeff Garcia. After all, he rang up seven.
At this point, you can even debate Luke McCown. After all, when all the points you can make add up to only 13, why shouldn't you consider all options?
Today, like a lot of days, the conversation about the Bucs will start with the options at quarterback. After all, Griese is hurting, and Garcia seems to be out of the doghouse, and McCown is waiting.
On the other hand, the closer you look at an offense that has once again been offensive, you should realize that the problems with the Bucs are deeper — not to mention slower and shorter — than whoever is playing quarterback.
Playing in the Mile High City, the Bucs offense gasped for air for most of the afternoon. A field goal here. A field goal there. A late touchdown.
And in a 16-13 defeat, that was it. Playing against a defense that has less stopping ability than an automatic door, the Bucs acted as if they had run into a wall. They were cautious. They were passive. They were ineffective. If it weren't for the aching eyes of those who watched them, you might suggest they were inoffensive.
Look, to truly grasp the impotency of the Tampa Bay offense, you first must consider the inability the Broncos defense had shown in the first month of the season. Denver was allowing 408 yards a game, and 29.2 points, and a swell 6.6 yards per play. Overall, including games against the Raiders and Chiefs, Denver had the 30th-best defense in the league.
Then came Sunday, and the Broncos turned into the '85 Bears.
As for the Bucs, they turned into the '07 Bucs, and the '06 Bucs, and the '05 Bucs, and on and on.
Is this ever going to change? For all the talk about gurus and offensive systems and the eternal search for the right quarterback, haven't we seen far too many days such as this, when the offense seems content to sip and nip instead of going for the throat?
Do you want to know the play that, more than any, defined the afternoon for the Bucs?
It came just before halftime. The Bucs trailed 6-3 at the time, and they had first and 10 at the Broncos 17 with 18 seconds to go. That's plenty of time to take two shots into the end zone. If you are unsuccessful, you still have plenty of time to kick a field goal.
Instead, the Bucs ran a pitch to Warrick Dunn around right end that was, more or less, a flashing sign that said, "We want a field goal here!" No offense to Dunn, but you could run that play 20 times and you wouldn't get a touchdown.
"We played the situation to get the field goal," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
For crying out loud, why? Technically, don't touchdowns count more?
At the moment, it felt as if the offense were gun-shy, perhaps because Griese had thrown six interceptions in his previous two games. Still, an offense cannot be so afraid of its own offense that, with a chance to go 4-1, it is unwilling to try to make a play. Can it?
Oh, there were factors.
After the game, Gruden talked repeatedly about penalties, and no, they didn't help. On the other hand, the Bucs had only five for 30 yards, a fairly average day in the NFL.
Gruden also talked about field position, and yes, the Bucs started inside their own 20 on four of their last five possessions.
On another drive, the Bucs started on their own 41, and after three plays, they punted on fourth and 17.
Besides, isn't an offense partly responsible for its own field position? Consider the third quarter, when Denver took over on its own 4 then moved the ball 40 yards before punting. Sure enough, when the Broncos got the ball back, they had it at the Tampa Bay 47.
Then there was this. The Bucs fully expected Denver to come in its usual aggressive, bump-and-run (read: miss-and-chase) defense, and instead, the Broncos came out in a two-deep zone. The Bucs claim they adjusted at the half, but six second-half drives managed only seven points.
As it does from time to time, the offense left you wondering if there were enough playmakers at wide receiver, if there was enough boldness in the game plan, for this offense to excel on a consistent basis.
Is Griese the quarterback for next week's game against Carolina? Is it Garcia?
Unless the Bucs offense performs better than this, does it matter?