By MIKE HENRY
Mother Nature played a sadistic trick on the 63,000-plus fans who attended Miami's 10-6 victory against Tampa Bay on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium.
A few minutes before 9 p.m., with the Buccaneers leading 6-0 in the second quarter, a lightning threat resulted in a 45-minute delay as officials pulled both teams off the field.
Anyone expecting offensive fireworks after play resumed was left wanting, although Miami quarterback Chad Pennington did manufacture a pair of scoring drives for the Dolphins' victory. The game ended about midnight, and a lot of folks who dragged themselves to work this morning must be wondering why they stayed.
For Bucs fans, the main subject around the water cooler is which quarterback will be under center for the opener against Dallas in two weeks.
After what he saw Thursday, first-year coach Raheem Morris is hoping Cadillac Williams can stay healthy. The one-time hope for a bright Bucs future, back from knee surgery, looked strong rushing for 54 yards on eight carries, including an explosive 19-yard run.
Combined with holdover Earnest Graham and former Giant Derrick Ward, the return of Williams gives the Bucs decent depth at the running back spot.
They're going to need it, judging from the uninspiring performances of quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown.
At least Tampa Bay's decision to draft Josh Freeman from Kansas State in the first round makes more sense. With Leftwich and McCown, it's safe to say the future is not now.
Leftwich (9-for-17, 100 yards) could overthrow Wilt Chamberlain, although he did have a few nice completions to the 6-foot-5 Maurice Stovall.
And those who remember the immobile Leftwich from his Jacksonville days are gritting their teeth at the thought of the Cowboys putting together a blitz package for the opener.
McCown, who played pretty well in a 24-23 victory against the Jaguars, reverted to form against the Dolphins, looking like a guy afraid to make a mistake. He got sacked three times and penalized for intentional grounding, and his cause wasn't helped by the absence of some key starters and a rainstorm during his service.
Rumors already are starting to swirl that McCown could be trade material. He might be a decent backup for a defense-oriented contender, but with the Bucs he could be a constant reminder that the alternative to No. 1 is just as lackluster.
Freeman, like any rookie quarterback not named Dan Marino or Matt Ryan, needs time. No sense throwing him to the wolves.
One bright spot for the Bucs was the defense, where coordinator Jim Bates is following in the footsteps of Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin by assembling a fast, aggressive, gang-tacking unit. The Bucs held Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to a combined 17 yards on six carries.
Thankfully, the preseason has only another week to run. If it hadn't been for all those sugary goodies in the press box, we doubt some reporters could have made it to the elevator Thursday night for their post-game interviews.