Alarmed now, Carolina Coach John Fox thoughtlessly ducked back into his shell with a simple first-down run that went nowhere, leading to Delhomme's three-and-out series.
Apparently scared out of their wits, Carolina's coaches now thoughtlessly played for a field goal with little pass plays, but the Buccaneers intercepted the second one at the Carolina 25 to give Tampa Coach Jon Gruden a chance to put the Panthers away. Instead, like Fox, Gruden thoughtlessly played for a field goal, got it, 24-20, and sat back to win.
With the clock against him, Delhomme started his last-chance series on the Carolina 22, and when his coaches called for passes on every down — six pass plays in a row — he showed what he's made of and what he could have been doing all day, completing five of the six on the 78-yard move that won the game, 27-24.
It's possible for pro football to be contested in somewhat that style every Sunday, with spectacular pass plays replacing the usual diet of miserable running plays. But the coaches think they're taking absurd chances and placing their large salaries unnecessarily in jeopardy when they call pass plays in the first two or three quarters, so they pointedly decline to put the ball up often.
Rather, they prattle on about the overwhelming necessity to run the ball in order to set up their occasional passes, as nonsensical as that is. For throwing the ball to set up runs is obviously equally important — but you never hear a coach putting it that way.
The coaches, what's more, have been able to get most of the media to go along with their self-serving propaganda. Every one of the electronic analysts follows the coaches' line, in fact, except Phil Simms. On program after program, the analysts keep saying you have to run the ball to win pro games.
And to be sure, there's a place for running plays — but not, as a rule, on first down or other running downs when the chance for success is slim against an eight-man defensive front and when the chance for a successful pass play is so frequently there.
John Madden is one of the majority of TV announcers who, sheep-like, constantly lobby for runs and against passing — as do all three of the announcers on Fox's Carolina-Tampa Bay broadcast last Sunday: former pass-offense stars Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth, both of whom should know better, and Joe Buck, who, in such distinguished company, can be forgiven.
During the fourth quarter and afterward last week, neither Aikman nor Collinsworth nor Buck mentioned, even once, that it was the sudden abundance of pass plays that made it a different game — that made another ordinary pro game suddenly exciting, and, more important, gave each team a splendid opportunity to win.
None of the three announcers apparently noticed that Gruden lost all chance when he hid in a running-play shell at a crucial point of the fourth quarter — hoping to run his way to a field goal — instead of calling the plays that had worked best for the Buccaneers throughout that quarter: Johnson's passes. And so the running-play deluge that continuously harms pro ball continues.
Bob Oates' book, Sixty Years of Winners, is available at latimes.com/bookstore or by calling (800) 246-4042 ($16.95).