TAMPA — Foul play is ruining the Bucs' season, particularly their pre- and post-snap penalties that have extended drives for opponents and crippled Tampa Bay's offense.
Only the Bills had committed more penalties than the Bucs (96) entering Thursday, a pace for the Bucs that would represent a 26 percent increase in their penalties over last year. Their penalty yards (655) are on pace to finish 39 percent higher than 2014.
"Unacceptable," DT Gerald McCoy said. "Way too many penalties, man."
Too many have come from McCoy, who may be among the biggest offenders when it comes to neutral zone infractions. The Bucs have six, only two fewer than they had all last year.
Teams walk a fine line when it comes to wanting defensive linemen to get off the ball quickly on the snap and tolerating encroachment penalties.
"You don't want to mess with their get-off, for sure," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "But those penalties, they extend drives, make it difficult for you on defense. It's first and 10 (for opponents), and all of a sudden it's first and 5. It's third and 5, and now it's a first down.
"You want (the defensive line) to get off the football and attack the line of scrimmage, but the penalties hurt us."
McCoy said he has no business trying to predict the snap count and the problem is easily fixed.
"It's simple. You stop guessing, myself in general," McCoy said. "I've been blessed with an ability to get off the ball. I don't have to cheat the count. I don't have to try and get an advantage on any offensive lineman in this league, because I have the ability to move as soon as anything budges. I have the ability to get up field in a hurry. It just comes with discipline.
"Cotton in your ears and move when the ball moves."
Referees always prefer for the players to decide games, but not vigilante style. The Bucs have eight unsportsmanlike penalties this season, as many as they had all last year.
"The coaches are going to say what they're going to say, but that's an issue we've got to address in the locker room because with us going out on the field believing we're a tribe of men, when you do that, you hurt your brothers," McCoy said. "That's a selfish act, getting a penalty of that magnitude. We're all professionals.
"You've got to swallow your pride and just move on because there will be the next snap. Do it legally."
TIES THAT BIND: Two Bucs have close ties to Cowboys star receiver Dez Bryant, whose team will be at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
FB Jorvorskie Lane played high school football with Bryant in Lufkin, Texas, southeast of Dallas, and said Lane remembers him as a promising free safety before coaches came to their senses and put him on offense.
"That's my boy," Lane said. "I remember when we first found out he was Dez Bryant. He was a free safety my senior year, and he kept making plays. As an offense, we couldn't throw the ball deep because he was always going to get them.
"They put him on offense, and I threw his first touchdown. Dez is an unbelievable talent, and we saw it. The rest was history."
LB Orie Lemon played with Bryant at Oklahoma State and in Dallas in 2012-13, and the two share a house in the Dallas area, where Lemon calls home in the offseason.
"That's my best friend," Lemon said of Bryant. "We're both competitive players, so we know we're going to go at it when the ball's out there. It's all (family) outside the football field, but when we step inside those white lines, we're all against each other.
"Big week for me. I've got to make some plays."
INJURIES: WR Vincent Jackson (knee), DE Jacquies Smith (ankle), G Ali Marpet (ankle) and S D.J. Swearinger (toe) did not practice Thursday. CB Alterraun Verner (toe) returned to practice after missing Wednesday.
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report. Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Follow @NFLStroud.