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THE WORST TEAM IN THE NFL // Surprise! We're not talking about the Bucs

The running back is being wasted. The offensive line is pathetic. The head coach has lost his mind. The defense can't stop anyone. The rookie quarterback struggles. The fans are revolting because, well, the team is revolting. Yep, those Arizona Cardinals stink, all right. Feel free to point and laugh.

It is a basic form of therapy, really. If you are the second-biggest wimp on the beach, it is somehow empowering to kick sand into the face of the biggest. It doesn't make you mighty, but there is a guilty comfort to knowing that you outrank somebody.

Think of it as football version's of The Biggest Loser. Yeah, the Bucs are dreadful, and when you look at them too long, your face grows numb. You have smacked the team logo in the face so long your arms are tired.

On the other hand, they are better than the Cardinals.


Say what you will about a Jon Gruden news conference in which he defends throwing 48 times in a gusting wind. Gruden has nothing on Arizona's Denny Green, whose meltdown after losing to the Bears made Captain Queeg giggle.

Talk all you will about how Cadillac Williams has been forgotten, but Edgerrin James couldn't get recognized if he wore his jersey to the mall. Yeah, James has 63 more yards than Williams, but it has taken him 61 more carries. Edge: Bucs.

Grouse about how much the Bucs' rookie quarterback, No. 7, sputters. The Cards' rookie quarterback, No. 7, also sputters. At least Bruce Gradkowski never dated Paris Hilton. Edge: Bucs.

And so it goes. The Bucs have lost two straight; the Cards have lost seven straight. The Bucs have had only one winning season in their past four; the Cards have had only one in their past 21. The Bucs have won two - count 'em, two - games this year; the Cards, one. Also, Tampa Bay has water.

Yeah, it's like Paris making fun of Nicole's intelligence. But go ahead. Strut. Swagger. Brag. In the NFL's nerd-off, the Bucs are only the silver medalist.


Among losing teams, it is a familiar exercise. Sooner or later, someone is going to say out loud, "By golly, I'll bet we're the best 2-6 team in the league.''

It's a silly notion, of course, because if a team were any good, it wouldn't be 2-6. It's like being the skinniest sumo wrestler. No one wants to hear you boast.

But, no, the Bucs aren't even good by 2-6 standards.

So far, there are nine teams in the "cess'' end of the NFL pool, and if this was a beauty contest, Tampa Bay would come in just ahead of Arizona. (It says here the Bucs should play Arizona for homecoming next year. Who's with me?)

Pittsburgh? Nah. The Steelers are 2-6, but let's face it, it is because Bill Cowher must be living wrong. Pittsburgh is sixth in the league in offense and eighth in defense. Tampa Bay, by comparison, is 31st and 21st.

Miami? Nah. Miami just knocked off the unbeaten Bears. And the Dolphins' defense is fourth in the NFL.

Detroit? Nah. Detroit has the league's sixth-best passing attack. The Bucs are 27th.

Who else? The Raiders have a top 10 defense, and the Texans beat Jacksonville by 20, and the Titans won on the road. Cleveland is dreadful, but the Browns are ahead of the Bucs in both offense and defense.

For that matter, there is an argument to be made that the Cardinals are better, too. They've certainly been more competitive, losing three games by a total of six points.

On the other hand, these are the Cardinals. No franchise is more gloriously bewildered. They are a football team right out of My Name is Earl, dependably dysfunctional, endearingly embarrassing.

For instance, it was only a few months ago when James ran through the warning lights to get to Arizona's money. He might as well be in the witness relocation program.

Then there was defensive end Bertrand Berry who, on his radio show, revealed this about some of his teammates: "I don't like them. I don't like their attitude. I don't like their approach to the game and I don't like their actions on the field." That led to a players-only meeting (which meant only three guys were allowed in the room).

Also, there was offensive coordinator Keith Rowan. Rowan was fired two games ago. Only he is still required to go into the office and work, breaking down tape. (That should make linebacker coach Joe Barry thank Bruce Allen for not allowing him to go to Arizona to be Green's defensive coordinator.)

Even for teams that spend a lot of time crying, the Cards always are good for a laugh.

As bad as it is, in other words, it could be worse.

So go ahead. Get the Bucs a bumper sticker. They may be slow, but they're ahead of the Cardinals.


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