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Bucs' third-down debacles continue

After going 4-for-5 on third downs to open Sunday's game, the Bucs regressed to their struggles of the last month, missing on their last nine to finish 4-for-14, including four sacks, in the 23-13 loss to St. Louis. • "We gave up three third-down sacks. It's not like the third downs were (long)," coach Greg Schiano said. "We had two (third and) 9s, and the rest were 3-and-under. We had six of them. Four of them were very manageable and we got sacked on three of them." • That came after a promising start: a 30-yard pass for a rare conversion on third and 10, then a touchdown by RB Bobby Rainey on third and goal at the 1-yard line. Mike Glennon was sacked on a third and 4, slid to a stop short on a third and 1, and threw a 7-yard pass to TE Tim Wright on a third-and-9 play. • In the fourth quarter, when the Bucs got into obvious passing plays even in third-and-short situations, the Rams' pass rush took over, closing it out with sacks on three straight third downs. The first came on third and 3 as the Bucs were driving for a potential tying touchdown. Glennon was sacked and fumbled, setting up a Rams field goal for the final 10-point margin. • "It was just a tough day for our offense," said Glennon, whose team had back-to-back games with fewer than 200 yards for the first time since 2006. "We'll learn from this, and we have one last game to get ready for. … We just need to play better, and we have to be better … not get into these situations with the third and (longs). It was good to get going there in the second half, but as an offense, we have to get better." • The Bucs' third-down slump has them now 2-for-38 on third and 8 or longer in the past seven games; they're also 0-for-their-last-27 on third and 5 or longer in the second half. As a team, they're converting just 20 percent of their third downs (10-for-49) in the past four games.

Bucs LT Donald Penn had hoped Sunday would be a day he could point to as a success, neutralizing the NFL's sack leader in Rams DE Robert Quinn. Instead, Quinn finished with three sacks, two in the fourth quarter. In all, the Rams piled up seven sacks against Mike Glennon, frustrating the offensive line tasked with protecting the Bucs quarterback. • "I'm disappointed. This has been a rough year for me, up and down. I've been fighting and fighting," Penn said. "Today, I really went into this game thinking I would really have a dominant performance. It started off great, three quarters. Then the end was just — it's tough." • Quinn's first sack, late in the second quarter, was pivotal. The Bucs trailed 14-7 and had driven to the Rams 9-yard line, only to have Glennon sacked for a 7-yard loss. Then Quinn got to him for a 9-yard sack, setting up third and goal at the 25, where the Bucs salvaged a field goal before halftime. • The Rams had back-to-back sacks again late in the game, when the Bucs needed two scores and were in obvious passing situations. Quinn got to Glennon on a fourth-and-10 play, then again on the final play of the game on a third and 1. Penn said part of the Bucs' problems came when they kept a running back in to "chip" Quinn, actually redirecting him inside toward the quarterback. • "You love to get chip help," Penn said. "I'm not blaming anybody. I've got to figure out a way to do better. (RB Brian) Leonard's doing his job, doing what's supposed to. Quinn's used to getting chipped all year long. A couple of times he got knocked right into Mike while he was stepping up. I have to find a way to stop that when that does happen. I didn't today." • The Bucs made a rare lineup change on the line during the game, benching G Jamon Meredith during the second quarter and inserting backup Ted Larsen in his place. With seven sacks allowed Sunday, the Bucs have given up 21 sacks in the past five games. After allowing no more than three sacks in any of the first 10 games, they've allowed four or more four times in the past five weeks. The Bucs should find themselves in the bottom 10 of the league in sacks allowed by the end of the weekend.

. The Bucs found their top WR, Vincent Jackson, wide open early in Sunday's loss, but they couldn't find the same connection in the second half, as he had just one catch after halftime. "I don't think in the second half, many people were targeted," coach Greg Schiano said. "We only threw the ball 26 times (10 in the second half), so there were not that many opportunities for Vincent." Jackson, drawing extra coverage from defenses as the team's leading downfield target, got open for catches of 22 and 30 yards on the team's touchdown drive on its second possession. And just before halftime, he and rookie QB Mike Glennon connected again, with gains of 19 and 11 yards to set up a field goal.

In the second half, however, Jackson only had one catch for 16 yards, and that came with 3:15 left in the game. When the Bucs got to the 13-yard line in the third quarter with a chance to take the lead, Glennon looked for Jackson in the corner of the end zone, but the pass was knocked down by Rams CB Janoris Jenkins.

Jackson has now reset his career high in catches in each of his two seasons with the Bucs, getting 72 last year and 73 in 2013. He finished with 98 yards Sunday, and if he does that again in the finale, he will have the team's third-best season ever in receiving yards, trailing only his 1,384 last year and Mark Carrier's 1,422 in 1989. Jackson was not available for comment Sunday.

. With playmaking WR Tavon Austin sidelined with an ankle injury, the Rams turned to fellow rookie and former West Virginia WR Stedman Bailey to come up with the play that gave the Rams the lead for good. With the score tied at 7 in the second quarter, Bucs RB Bobby Rainey fumbled, setting the Rams up at the Tampa Bay 27-yard line. QB Kellen Clemens faked a handoff to RB Zac Stacy to his left and instead handed off to WR Chris Givens, who ran right and pitched the ball to Bailey, who then followed a wall of blockers down the left side for his first NFL touchdown and a 14-7 lead. "I think it was a great call with the perfect situation," Bailey said. "We just got a turnover, and the defense was probably on their heels. We have never run that before, and it worked out pretty good. … We've been practicing it, and I felt like we had a pretty good chance for it to be an explosive play." Bucs coach Greg Schiano talks to his players about "sudden change" — preparing for things after unexpected turns, such as a turnover — but the execution wasn't there from his defense. "We made a mistake on that. We had a breakdown," Schiano said. "It is a good play, but it shouldn't be a touchdown because someone should be on that guy. We busted it." DT Gerald McCoy, whose defense only gave up two touchdowns Sunday, said the unit didn't respond the way it had been taught in that situation. "You have to expect a shot to the end zone or a big play or trick play," McCoy said. "We've been trained on that since we got in the league."

No go in red zone

. Given a chance to tie the score before halftime and even take the lead in the third quarter, the Bucs twice had drives stall in the red zone, where they settled for field goals in a 23-13 loss. Two passes to WR Vincent Jackson put the Bucs at the Rams 9-yard line in the final minute of the first half, but Mike Glennon was sacked on back-to-back plays, setting up a third and goal at the 25. Instead of tying the game, the Bucs just cut the Rams' lead to 14-10. After forcing a three-and-out from the Rams to open the second half, the Bucs again moved the ball well, going from their 35 to the 14-yard line. But again, the drive stalled. RB Bobby Rainey gained 1 yard on first down, then Glennon threw two incomplete passes, so instead of a 17-14 lead, the Bucs settled for a 14-13 deficit, scoring their only points of the second half. Tampa Bay's red-zone offense went into the game 23rd in the league, getting touchdowns on just 51 percent of its trips inside the opposing 20, down from 59 percent last year. The Rams came in with the league's No. 9 red-zone defense, holding opponents to touchdowns on 52 percent of their opportunities, and the Bucs went just 1-for-3 Sunday. "That's a good front four. Between those two ends (Robert Quinn and Chris Long), possibly the defensive MVP and another top pick that's played at a high level for many years now, they're a good front four, and you need to give them credit," Glennon said. "It was a real physical day, but it's possibly the best two duo defensive ends in the NFL."

T he Bucs offense made a few big plays, and the defense kept the team in the game with a goal-line stand, forcing a fumble in the second quarter. "They're driving and about to score and the defense bulled up," said LB Lavonte David, who had two of his team-high 11 tackles on back-to-back plays at the goal line. "That's what we play the game for, goal-line situations. We knew what we were going to get, and our guys did a great job of getting penetration." The Rams had marched down the field with big gains — a 19-yard run by RB Zac Stacy, a 28-yard pass to WR Stedman Bailey — and had first and goal at the 4-yard line, in position to take a 21-7 lead with a touchdown. David stopped Stacy at the 1-yard line, then dropped him for a loss on second down, setting up third and goal from the 2. St. Louis called a quarterback draw for Kellen Clemens, but DE Adrian Clayborn forced a fumble, which S Keith Tandy recovered. The Bucs allowed only three field goals the rest of the game. "We definitely needed that, because any momentum you can find in the game, you want to build off of it," DT Gerald McCoy said. Red-zone defense was perhaps what the Bucs did best Sunday. The Rams had four trips inside the Tampa Bay 20-yard line and came away with a touchdown just once.

Quick hits

. Bucs S Dashon Goldson, who has been fined nearly $400,000 and was suspended for the game against the Lions for repeated helmet-to-helmet hits, was flagged for it again late in Sunday's game and is likely to face more league punishment.

. LB Lavonte David continued to dominate, amassing a team-leading 11 tackles (10 solo) with two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

. DT Gerald McCoy had Tampa Bay's only sack of the game.

. With three sacks, Rams DE Robert Quinn has 18 for the season, passing Kevin Carter (17) for the franchise record. Carter is also a former Gator and Buc.

Bucs' third-down debacles continue 12/22/13 [Last modified: Monday, December 23, 2013 12:15am]

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