TAMPA — The Bucs were coasting along with a 14-0 lead against a team that had been averaging fewer than 13 points, and it seemed the possibilities were endless.
And then it happened.
A tidal wave buried the Bucs, the Jaguars scoring 28 consecutive points while Tampa Bay seemingly couldn't decide what to do about it. Jacksonville scored in every conceivable fashion: on special teams, on defense, on offense.
As the stunning sequence played out Sunday, you might have wondered why the Bucs couldn't stop the bleeding. That's still unclear, but the team's inability to respond to challenging situations has undoubtedly been a question all season.
"It just was a spiral, a funk we couldn't get out of until, eventually, it overtook you and (we) lost the football game," coach Raheem Morris said.
The Bucs went on to lose 41-14.
"That's the thing that happened the other day," Morris added. "You have to find a way to break that, whether it's (Michael) Koenen bombing a punt and pinning them on their 1-yard line or going out there and getting a three-and-out (on defense). … Those are the things you have to have happen when things start to spiral on you. You need somebody to make a play."
But that takes mettle. And it requires poise. There have been instances this season that raised questions about whether the Bucs possess enough of those qualities.
Other prime examples:
• On Oct. 9 at San Francisco, the Bucs trailed the 49ers 7-3 in the first quarter, having just recovered a Frank Gore fumble, when the turbulence hit. Quarterback Josh Freeman's interception was returned 31 yards by cornerback Carlos Rogers for a touchdown. Instead of answering, the Bucs fell apart. Freeman threw another interception and the 49ers converted with a Gore touchdown run, making it 21-3. The Bucs barely showed a pulse the rest of the way, losing 48-3.
• On Nov. 13 versus Houston, Tampa Bay was blindsided by first-half touchdowns of 80 and 78 yards, including Jacoby Jones' catch and run on the Texans' first play from scrimmage. The Bucs failed to compose themselves, managing just a field goal before yielding 14 consecutive points in the third quarter.
As with many questions about this team, some of the answers can be traced to inexperience. With a roster full of players who are untested as pros, many Bucs can't rely on past experience in these predicaments.
"I think it does take time (to learn)," linebacker Geno Hayes said. "Sometimes you can get a little complacent and you can get into a little slump and not come out of it. I think a lot of young guys are learning that once that (bad) play is over, we have to move on to the next play. You can only do better on the next play. I think that's something guys are really picking up on when we watch film."
Morris often talks about qualities such as mental toughness and calls distractions "gray matter." But it's one thing to talk about it and another to actually face such obstacles.
And in the NFL, rarely do things go the way they are planned. Opponents are there to make certain of that.
"When Raheem first got the job, there was a phrase that he kept throwing at us," linebacker Quincy Black said. "It was 'love to be miserable.' It didn't make sense at first.
"But you have to realize that this is a man's game. Things are going to happen in games that are not necessarily going to be in your control. At the same time, you have to learn to control the things that are and do your best and perform when the opportunity arises. You have to do your job."
What's interesting is the Bucs in 2010 were renowned for weathering, and eventually overcoming, storms. But will we see that again?
"We've had some situations where we've turned the ball over and fallen behind," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "We have to come back, and we've proven it. We've done it in the past. We have to get back to that confidence level and do it again."
In the NFL, there will be unfortunate moments. What the Bucs do then will ultimately define them.
"We just have to handle ourselves better," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "We have to handle adversity and find a way through it."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377.