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QB quandary, pitied players, gone GM

This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano includes chatter about changing quarterbacks, players who deserve our sympathy and how much Rich McKay is missed.

GS: The Bucs are home. Michael Vick is in a free fall. Jim Mora is coaching on the other sideline. Is this the Bucs' last chance to win a football game this year?

JR: No, I wouldn't say that. Because I don't think they have a chance today.

GS: Not a chance? The Falcons have lost four of their last five. This team is so lost that when Vick points directions, he uses his middle finger. And you still think the Bucs have zero chance? Pretty harsh, Nostradamus.

JR: In their last 22 offensive possessions, the Bucs have two field goals and zero touchdowns. If Nostradamus was paying attention to this offense, he'd be screaming about the Apocalypse.

GS: I've heard of that. It involves Jon Gruden riding a pale horse, right?

JR: Yup, and he's complaining that the horse is younger than the one he expected to be riding.

GS: That's Jon, riding through the desert on a horse with no spleen. Or his backup pony, who doesn't look ready to be ridden. If you were Gruden, would you have stuck with Bruce Gradkowski?

JR: No, I think it's the perfect time to switch to Tim Rattay. First of all, it gives Gradkowski a chance to step away from the madness and observe for a week. If Rattay plays horribly, you can go back to Gradkowski for the final three weeks and, hopefully, he comes in with a fresher perspective. If Rattay plays wonderfully, then you have a new quarterback, at least temporarily.

GS: I guess we know which one of those Gruden would expect. No matter who the quarterback is, though, this has to come back on the head coach, doesn't it? Other teams are playing with new quarterbacks, and they aren't last in scoring. You have to wonder: How many would the Bucs have scored if Gruden wasn't such a guru?

JR: That's what I don't understand. If you break it down to the most basic level, you say the Bucs have a proven runner in Cadillac Williams and an unproven quarterback in Gradkowski. Yet in his nine starts, Gradkowski is averaging about 32 pass attempts and Williams is getting around 17 rushes. It doesn't take a guru to figure out Gradkowski and Williams would both be better off if that ratio was a little closer.

GS: Not just them. Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber would be better off, too. And Mike Alstott and Shelton Quarles. Those are the guys I feel sorry for. It's like watching a rags-to-riches story written in reverse.

JR: That conversation is going to grow in poignancy in the coming weeks. Are we really seeing the final days of Alstott? Of Brooks? Of Quarles? Have we already seen the last of Simeon Rice? If the last five years have taught us anything, it is that the Glazers and the current administration are not burdened by the weight of loyalty.

GS: At 3-9, it's tough to be loyal. I think Brooks and Barber will still be back, but I'm not going to lend anyone else a book. When the games all look like the same misery, the roster is bound to look different. But will the standings?

JR: Funny that you would ask about the franchise's future on a day when Rich McKay is returning to Tampa Bay. Do you suppose the Glazers are rethinking that fiasco? Did you know the Bucs were 84-65 when McKay was general manager? It sounds even better when you consider they were 15-42 before he took over and 19-27 since he left.

GS: McKay wasn't perfect, either. But there seemed to be a foundation in those days, a plan that seemed more sound than what's going on now. The real concern isn't whether this season is lost - it is - but whether next season will be any better. As long as you're laying odds, how do you like those chances?

JR: Last-place schedule? Money to spend? If they don't get better, it means they must have rehired Leeman Bennett.

JROMANO@SPTIMES.COM

GSHELTON@SPTIMES.COM

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