It Takes More Than a Quarterback To Lose

View From the Press Box

Joe Kauffman
Technical Editor

June 15, 1997

TAMPA, Fla. - Don't blame the 3-4 record on the quarterbacks.

Peter Tom Willis, the signal caller for the Tampa Bay Storm, was 14-of-26 for 190 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He played a flawless first half, including a career-long 46-yard touchdown pass to WR/DB Lawrence Samuels. The team even had a 28-27 lead at the half.

P. T. Willis
Storm QB Peter Tom Willis
Photo by Chris Arnold
But then it happened again. Samuels fumbled the ball at the end of a five-yard pass. Worse than the fumble, P. T.'s rib injury sustained in last week's game against the Albany Firebirds was reaggravated when he made the tackle to prevent a long return on the New Jersey Red Dogs recovery. He tried to return to the game, but he couldn't put any power behind his passes.

"I made the tackle on the fumble and after I tackled him I went down and somebody ripped my arm back [and stretched it out]. It hurts. I couldn't throw after that," Willis said about the play.

"I pulled [Willis] out because he was hurting, and he couldn't go," said Storm coach Tim Marcum. "I asked him if he could go and he said 'Coach, I can't throw the ball.'"

Willis feels that the team is disappointed and frustrated, but that they need to make a decision. "We could sit here and feel sorry for ourselves or we can say we need to do this or do that. We're doing a lot of talking and not much doing. We have to go out and play better."

But with Willis' condition uncertain for next week, the Storm may need to rely on backup quarterback Dan White against the CityHawks. In the last two games, White has led the team for nearly six quarters, but has only led the team to 18 points, none coming against the Red Dogs. He took a significant number of snaps in last week's practice while anticipating what would have been his first start of the season. When Willis went out with an injury though, White looked unprepared. He was not ready to lead the Storm against the surprisingly successful expansion team.

Still, this loss can't be blamed on White, who was 8-of-16 for 86 yards, and two interceptions. He may have underthrown a couple of passes, but the receivers dropped a lot of balls that both he and Willis threw. Storm OS George LaFrance and WR/LB Stevie Thomas, two of the most reliable receivers in Arena Football history, have beemn playing inconsistently the last three weeks. Both have been dropping sure completions, including three that would have been touchdowns.

But even with these problems, the team has improved since last week's loss.

"I thought the effort was there. A 28-27 halftime [lead] with the possession, we go down and we lose the ball," said Marcum. "Still, I thought the effort even in the second half was pretty good. Our pass rush was improved over what it's been. We got out-executed down the field."

In the first half, the Storm looked their best since the week four victory at Nashville. The receivers caught anything that came near them, and the running game was almost mistake free. After Willis was injured, however, the Storm returned to what has become their usual form of the last three weeks. The only bright-side of the game was the defensive pass rush, which increased their season sack total three hundred percent.

"We turned the ball over, and when you do that, you're not going to win in this game," said Marcum. "We had plenty of chances to take this game out of hand and we just didn't do it."

Coach Marcum is right about that. The Storm have had plenty of chances to win the last three weeks, but they did not grab the opportunity. Toward the beginning of the season, those missed opportunities were overthrown balls to open receivers. While this still occurs, the fumbles, sacks allowed and lack of defensive coverage are hurting more. While three sacks on New Jersey quarterback Rickey Foggie was good, the Storm OL/DL needs to get the opposing QB more and allow less sacks. The receivers need to stop dropping easy catches, and the defensive backs need to cover the opposing receiver more and try for the interception less. That is how big pass plays are given up.

Still, there are seven weeks remaining in the season, plenty of time for the defending champions to recover and make the playoffs. But from this moment, every game needs to be viewed as a must-win. There is no room for partial-effort performances. As attendance dwindles at the Ice Palace, the Storm realizes that the fans are not going to stick around for a mediocre season. Like fans of nearly every other successful sports franchise or college team, fans get used to winning. There is nothing wrong with that. It just makes losing that much harder.

That's my view from the press box.

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