Bucs close again, but so what?

by Gary Shelton on December 25, 2017 · 4 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston insists he recovered his third fumble./CARMEN MANDATO

Winston insists he recovered his third fumble./CARMEN MANDATO

Monday, 3 a.m.

Winston threw well, but kept fumbling./CARMEN MANDATO

Winston threw well, but kept fumbling./CARMEN MANDATO

In the diminishing life of a loser, the brightest point is when you try find comfort in a close defeat.

Why, the other team is good, and it barely won. Why, the other team is going somewhere so, for a change, it didn’t feel as if this one in going nowhere. It’s like a visit to the mansion, but you don’t feel out of place.

Until you remember The point, which is to win


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Will Clarke pressures Cam Newton./CARMEN MANDATO

Will Clarke pressures Cam Newton./CARMEN MANDATO

And, somehow,  they lost again.

Faced with impending victory over a playoff-bound team, the Bucs gathered all of their forces to lose once more. Faced with a bit of light in a dark, dark season, the Bucs fumbled for the switch and embraced the emptiness. It was as if the Bucs smelled victory... and grew dizzy from the odor.

Murray missed his second big kick in two weeks./CARMEN MANDATO

Murray missed his second big kick in two weeks./CARMEN MANDATO

It took offense -- three fumbles by Jameis Winston (he said two), six sacks and several sad squanders into the red zone.It took defense --- surrendering a winning touchdown drive by the Panthers that culminated in a scoring run by Cam Newton with 35 seconds to play. On the biggest play of the day, defensive tackle Chris Baker was offsides.

It took special teams -- an overtime-clinching missed field goal and a 103-yard kickoff return. It took bad bounces and penalties, bonehead penalties and, in the end, a loss of composure. Mainly, it took the fumbles.

It all added up to the Bucs' 11th loss of the season, a 22-19 defeat that left one team headed to playoffs and the other headed toward the bottom of the NFL standings.

"We jumped offsides too many times, we turned it over too many times and we we didn't score in the red zone too many times," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. He did not have to mention that the Bucs have lost too many times.

So what do you make of it? Do you applaud the effort of a team that has not quit, or do you jeer one that, once again, could not finish the job? Do you laud Jameis Winston for a second-straight superb passing performance, or do you point out that holding onto the ball is part of the job requirement, too?

"We aren't a bad football team,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "It's just not going our way. People can say what they want. I don't care what people say."

Evans caught six for 107 yards on Sunday./CARMEN MANDATO

Evans caught six for 107 yards on Sunday./CARMEN MANDATO

Take Winston, for instance. He hit 21 of 27 passes for 367 yards despite being harassed by the Panthers' defensive line, and his quarterback rating was above 130.0 for the second straight game. But he lost three fumbles. two of which led to 10 points by Carolina.

The third fumble came after Newton's score, and it clinched the game. The Bucs had 35 seconds to get into field goal position, but Winston was sacked and lost the ball. He maintained that he recovered it, which led to his late game meltdown when the officials awarded it to Carolina.

"I had the ball," Winston said. “Everyone has bad things happen to them. Some things you can’t control and some things we can control. It’s over with now. We have one more game, at home. We’ve gotta get a win and we have to focus on that. I can spend two hours up here talking about the things that happened to us this year, but I’m not. That’s making excuses.

Josh Robinson interferes with Greg Olsen on a fourth down fake.CARMEN MANDATO

Josh Robinson interferes with Mose Frazier on a fourth down fake./CARMEN MANDATO

The Bucs have now lost five games in a row. In those games, Tampa Bay has scored 101 points. It has left the impression of a team that, in the late stages, keeps looking over its shoulder for something to fall on it.

This time, it was Cam Newton, who bobbled the snap (the Panthers even fumble better than the Bucs), scooped it up and ran two yards for the winning score. The play before that, with Carolina facing a fourth-and-three, Bucs' defensive tackle Chris Baker jumped offsides to give the Panthers a fourth and inches, which Jonathan Stewart picked up. But not, it turns out, according to the Bucs.

"We stopped them, man," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy."It was a bad call. I know you can't critique the refs, and I'm not going to start today, but like I said, that was a bad spot. It should've been reviewed and we should have been off the field and won the game."

Said Robert Ayers: "I thought he was short. I know I grabbed him and he went backwards. He didn't go forward. That's part of the year we've been having . We never get those kinds of calls."

And so it goes. Like a lot of losing teams, the Bucs dominated the little downs. But they didn't handle the big downs.

“We played hard,” Koetter said. “We’re doing a lot of good stuff. Our defense in that first half was unbelievable. To hold them running the football like we did today. We sacked them twice. What did our defense give up? Thirteen points in the game?

“That’s good enough. We give up a special teams touchdown. We turn it over. We lose a turnover by two. The same stuff wins football games every week. I mean it’s the same stuff and we’re coming out on the short end. It’s not an effort issue. It’s not a hustle issue. It’s not a physical issue, but they beat us. They beat us fair and square.”

For instance, one week after missing a game-tying field goal, Patrick Murray missed a 50-yarder that would have given the Bucs a seven-point lead with 3:05 to play. In the series of downs before Murray's miss, the Bucs had a three-yard loss by running back Doug Martin and a two-yard sack of Winston.

McCoy and the defense played well./CARMEN MANDATO

McCoy and the defense played well./CARMEN MANDATO

"We didn't make enough plays," Koetter said. "I stunk in the red zone."

The Bucs didn't smell any better. They botched a 70-yard completion to Chris Godwin, they blew a first-and-goal from the 5 and a first-and-goal at the eight.

For once, the defense played okay until the final drive. Newton didn't have a great day, and the Panthers couldn't run the ball. Still, they won. For the Bucs' opposition, that happens regularly.

Tampa Bay finishes its season Sunday at home. The game against New Orleans begins at 1 p.m.

Kwon Alexander intercepts a pass./CARMEN MANDATO

Kwon Alexander intercepts a pass./CARMEN MANDATO

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