The Tampa Bay Buccaneers magic number -- one -- hasn't changed in three weeks, long enough for the act to go stale.
It comes down to the Buccaneers beating Kansas City at Tampa on Sunday or Chicago losing at home against Stl Louis for Tampa Bay to win the title in the Central Division of the National Footall Conference.
After three straight losses, the last 23-7 to San Francisco (2-13) on Sunday, Coach John McKay indicated that he might alter his quarterbacks' roles to take some of the leadership burden off Doug Williams. tThe coach acknowledged that he didn't have an answer when asked to account for Tampa Bay's slip from a 9-3 record and a three-game lead in the division to 9-6.
"We're going to have to do something," he said after Sunday's drop into a first-place tie with the Bears.
Because Williams tried to take all the blame, McKay reportedly is thinking about starting his four-season veteran, Mike Rae, and having Williams relieve him after the Kansas City defenses have been probed for weaknesses.
Rae relieved Williams on Sunday after the starting quarterback was intercepted five times, while completing 10 of 24 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown. He had only 13 interceptions in 13 games, but now has nine in the last two games.
McKay said he was baffled, "because Doug had been throwing so well."
Williams took it hardest in the dressing room, explaining why so much rested on him.
"Being the quarterback, you feel the weight," he said. "The guys on the sideline wait for you to pull something out of the hat. I do myself."
Asked what his reaction would be if the coach started Rae against Kansas City, Williams said, "If he (McKay) feels it will help the team . . . well, I want to go to the playoffs; no matter who is calling the signals -- Rae, me, or Chuck Fusina (the rookie from Penn State)." Linebacker Dave Lewis has attempted to lead the team, but implied his inadequacy when he said, "We're choking."
Defensive end Lee Roy Selmon is looked up to as the best player on the team, but some say he lacks "the mean streak" that some football people think is requistite. He is described as "a gentle fellow" who can't be an intimidating leader.
Nor has McKay, for all his reputation as an acerbic personality, been able to motivate the Buccaneers to play the way they did earlier in the season when they outclassed the Los Angeles Rams, who have gone on to win the NFC West title.
"What we needed was Knute Rockne," he said after sunday's game, "but he wasn't here."
McKay has been trying to restrain his emotions since an incident following the loss to Minnesota at Tampa Bay. The coach said he was catching it from a man in the stands who had been shouting insults at him and making racial slurs about the Buccaneers.
McKay told the spectator off on the way from the field. The next day, McKay issued a statement to the press to make it clear he was not responding to the fans in general, only to the person he said had become familiar because of his voice.
The Buccaneers might have peaked too soon.