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Five topics suitable for inane debate on talk radio:

YOU SAY TOMATO, THEY SAY TOMORROW: Panic is not in Tampa Bay's vocabulary. Which is a shame because the Bucs could use some urgency. If they are concerned about their 4-4 start, they do a good job of hiding it. They kept talking Sunday about how the Raiders began 4-4 last season and still reached the Super Bowl. Yeah, so the Chiefs, Patriots, Redskins and Cardinals also started last season 4-4 and failed to make the playoffs. The Bucs remain in contention, but their margin for error has grown quite thin.

LOSING THEIR RELIGION: It's not just the losses that should concern the Bucs, it's the level of competition. Tampa Bay has lost two games against opponents with losing records. The Bucs were 8-0 against losing teams in 2002.

FOR FUTURE CONSIDERATION: Want to know how to beat the Bucs? There are a couple of common themes the past two seasons. When allowing a running back more than 100 yards, the Bucs are 1-5. When Brad Johnson is sacked three or more times, the Bucs are 0-4. New Orleans has this figured out. The Saints have two of those 100-yard rushing days and three of those multiple-sack games.

UN-D-PENDABLE: Its stats are as imposing as ever, but the defense has given up winning drives in the final minutes of three games.

SOUNDS LIKE BULL: Maybe it's breakdowns in pass protection. Maybe it's a running game that has sputtered. Or, maybe, Brad Johnson is more banged up than he lets on. Whatever the reason, his effectiveness has waned. After throwing 12 touchdowns with three interceptions through five games, Johnson has four TDs with five interceptions in three games.


Five possible reasons for the slow start:

5. Ran out of casts.

4. Two words: Tokyo baths.

3. Offensive assistants out late at Kinko's.

2. Not the same without Ed Glazer around.

1. They're not that good.


1. Since 2001, Martin Gramatica has converted 92 percent of his field-goal attempts (23 of 25) between 30-39 yards. That is, until he went wide left on a 36-yard field goal at the end of the first half.

2. An interception by Derrick Brooks should have set the Bucs up in New Orleans territory in the third, but they were pushed back 15 yards when Ronde Barber was called for taunting. The personal fouls have got to stop. This team has too many veterans to keep making emotional mistakes.

3. A fumbled punt, a lost onside kick and hardly anyone is complaining. Is that how low expectations for the special teams have become?

4. The injuries in the secondary showed up in New Orleans' only offensive touchdown. Linebacker Shelton Quarles was left covering Michael Lewis on a deep route and got no help from his safeties.

5. They say they do not play prevent defense in the final minutes, but the Bucs go soft at crunch time. Aaron Brooks was 8-of-24 before completing five straight on the final drive.


Checking out the best bets (and Bucs) for Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston:

1. CHIEFS: The only team that looks stronger after a week off.

2. COLTS: Turns out, Eli Manning's big brother may be all right.

3. TITANS: 'Canes beat Vols this week, but Titans beat Dolphins.

4. PANTHERS: A win this week would just about clinch the South.

8. BUCS: Hey, at least they haven't lost two in a row.


Can they play Parcells again?