TAMPA — After reviewing the game tape from Sunday's 23-21 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles, Bucs coach Greg Schiano said some of his defensive players were guilty of trying to do too much.
But in trying to close out games in the fourth quarter this season, the record will reflect that they haven't done nearly enough.
Sunday was the fourth time the Bucs have taken a lead deep into the fourth quarter and their defense failed to protect it. Tampa Bay let Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles overcome an 11-point deficit with 3:55 remaining, including a winning 1-yard touchdown to receiver Jeremy Maclin as time expired.
Foles had 381 yards passing and two touchdowns in a victory that dealt a huge blow to the Bucs' playoff hopes.
"I think when you focus on making plays is exactly when you don't make plays," Schiano said. "Focus on doing your job and plays come to you, the game comes to you. That's what we believe around here. So we've got to do a better job of that. Certainly, personnel is part of the issue and coaching is part of the issue."
The stoppers on defense turned into sieves trying to protect an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter in Week 2 against the New York Giants in the Meadowlands. Two weeks later, trailing by a point with 1:42 remaining, Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III drove Washington 56 yards to set up Billy Cundiff's 41-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining for a 24-22 win over the Bucs.
Two weeks ago, the Atlanta Falcons trailed by six in the fourth quarter before pulling away from the Bucs.
The biggest culprit has been Tampa Bay's porous pass defense, which ranks last in the NFL. Starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Eric Wright both were suspended four games for using Adderall, a performance-enhancing drug. Talib was eventually traded to the New England Patriots. Ronde Barber, a 16-year veteran who moved to safety, is the only experienced starting defensive back in a group that includes rookie Leonard Johnson, Mark Barron, Danny Gorrer, Anthony Gaitor and Ahmad Black.
Wright was partly responsible for the Giants loss and Talib was also there for the Redskins comeback.
"You've just got to stick together, that's it," injured cornerback LeQuan Lewis said. "And keep on believing in each other, get each other's backs, that's basically it. That's what it boils down to."
Barron was guilty of a coverage bust on Jason Avant that led to a 39-yard completion in the second quarter Sunday. On the next play, linebacker Lavonte David lost contain when he tried to defend what he thought would be a screen pass to his right and allowed Foles to jog in for a 10-yard touchdown.
Even after Foles' touchdown pass to tight end Clay Harbor cut the Bucs lead to 21-16, Schiano felt comfortable putting the game in the hands of his defense. Facing third and 8 with 2:55 remaining and the Eagles having one timeout, Schiano played it safe with a run by Doug Martin that failed to gain a yard.
After a 31-yard punt by Michael Koenen, Foles led a 64-yard march capped by his touchdown to Maclin.
Did Schiano's decision to rely on defense reflect a lack of confidence in quarterback Josh Freeman?
"No it's none of that," Schiano said. "If it were the same situation in another game, I might have chosen to do it differently. But in that game, a rookie quarterback on the other side, where we were on the field, our punter — all things I believe to be true and are true — again that's why I say we went against the rules or the laws of football, didn't hold up there.
"Would I change it? Well, if I knew the result beforehand I probably would today. But … that's what I thought was the right thing to do and (I chose to) not risk it."
Rick Stroud can be heard 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.