The Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday put their offense in the hands of Chris Chandler, and the backup quarterback says he backed down. Sabotaged by an offensive line that leaked, Chandler could not help but peek at the charging San Diego Chargers defense that chased him all over Jack Murphy Stadium.
The results were four interceptions thrown by Chandler and as many sacks, all of which led to the Bucs' humiliating 41-10 loss to San Diego _ yet another of the National Football League's weaker teams.
This was the third loss in four games for the Bucs, who fell to 4-4 overall heading into next week's game against NFC Central leader Chicago, which is 6-1.
"I definitely have to say this is the worst game I've ever played at any level," said Chandler, for whom the Bucs traded their No. 1 draft pick in 1992 to Indianapolis. "After I got hit a few times early, I really felt I got a little gun-shy. They did a good job pressure-wise. Even when they weren't there for the sack, I think it affected me a little bit. Maybe that's a matter of not playing a whole lot in the last year or so.
"I think I expected a lot and I got a little too greedy."
Unfortunately, Bucs turnovers came cheap.
Chandler, making his first start as a Buc for injured quarterback Vinny Testaverde, was only partly to blame for Tampa Bay's failures. All told, the Bucs turned the ball over seven times, including three fumbles.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay was defenseless against the Chargers, who rushed for 157 yards and scored four touchdowns on the ground.
As you might have expected, Bucs coach Ray Perkins was not a happy camper after Sunday's loss.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm embarrassed by it," Perkins said. "If they're not, they need to get into another profession.
"I can't get out there and play physical, but I can get out there and whip somebody's a--. You know, I might have to do that, too."
Chances are, at age 48, Perkins could play no worse than his team did against the Chargers.
The Bucs had only 7 yards rushing in the first half and finished
the game with 157 total yards _ their lowest output of the season.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense allowed the Chargers to convert on nine of their first 11 third-down situations.
Things went south for the Bucs from the outset. The Charger drove 55 yards in 13 plays on their first possession and scored on Marion Butts' 1-yard run.
The touchdown march was aided by a penalty on Tampa Bay linebacker Broderick Thomas for illegal use of hands after the Bucs had stopped San Diego on third down at their own 19.
Butts, a former Florida State player who entered the game as the AFC's leading rusher, finished with 73 yards on 24 carries and three TDs. But he had to share the running load with an unlikely ballcarrier _ tight end Rod Bernstine.
The fourth-year pro out of Texas A&M rushed 15 times for 75 yards _ including a 20-yard touchdown run. Bernstine had carried the football 46 times before Sunday, but he was never more effective than against the Bucs.
"I don't understand with the way they played how they only won two games up until today," Perkins said.
To answer that puzzler, just consider the Bucs' turnovers.
Chandler's first interception, which was hauled in by former Buc Donnie Elder, led to Butts' second TD run and a 24-7 lead at halftime. Two Tampa Bay fumbles, including one by Chandler, cost the Bucs 10 more points.
A lot of Chandler's woes can be heaped on the Bucs offensive line, which was little match for San Diego defensive end Burt Grossman (two sacks) and linebacker Leslie O'Neal (one sack and one fumble recovery).
Chandler, who had not started a game in more than a year since being traded from the Indianapolis Colts, said he heard footsteps.
"When they say game experience, that's it. It's watching Leslie O'Neal come at you," Chandler said. "I know he's there, and if he hits you three or four times early, you know he's probably going to keep doing it the whole game. You still have to be able to execute.
"It was just a nightmare today."
The Chargers, who claimed all week that Perkins' decision to start Chandler over Testaverde proved that the Bucs had no respect for their team, said no quarterback could have escaped their pass rush Sunday.
"I thought Chandler played well," said Chargers linebacker Henry Rolling, another former Buc. "I think even if Vinny had been in there, the way we pressured the quarterback, I don't think Vinny would've fared any better."
Bucs offensive tackle Rob Taylor echoed those thoughts.
"I had a lot of confidence in Chris and I still do," Taylor said. "The way I look at it, we didn't give him good enough protection and it's not his fault, it's our fault. All of us make mistakes and mistakes are going to be made every day. We've got to fight through those mistakes and we didn't do that either."
"I've been pretty much embarrassed the last two weeks. I wish I knew what the reason was."
According to Perkins, no words are needed to describe the way the Bucs are playing.
"There's not a lot you can say," Perkins said. "Or there's not too many things you should say. You shouldn't open your mouth when you get your a-- kicked like we did. And that's pretty much what it was."
CHANDLER'S HARD TIMES
The Chargers' defensive line spent much of Sunday afternoon in the Bucs' offensive backfield getting acquainted with quarterback Chris Chandler, who was starting his first game for Tampa Bay. Here are his significant numbers.
Batted balls 2