William Gholston's third-down sack of Matt Ryan at the end of the second quarter Thursday presented the Buccaneers an opportunity.
Instead, coach Dirk Koetter, in possession of two timeouts, let 28 seconds roll off the clock and took his team into halftime down 20-14.
In a 43-28 home loss to the Falcons that was much worse than the score indicates, a few seconds might seem irrelevant.
Those seconds mattered, even if the Bucs didn't see it at the time.
If they had called a timeout, the Falcons, facing fourth-and-16 from their 38, would have punted.
Maybe nothing significant happens. Maybe the Falcons punter kicks it out of bounds, 10 seconds run off the clock and the Bucs decide to kneel it.
Speaking of the Falcons punter, do you even know his name? Don't bother looking for it in the box score. It's not there. Atlanta didn't punt. Not once.
The one time the Falcons sent their punter onto the field, the Bucs told him, "No, thanks. You can have the night off."
What if Tampa Bay had forced Atlanta to at least snap the ball?
Consider the possibilities: a botched snap, a blocked punt, a shanked punt, an Adam Humphries touchdown return.
All of these things are rare. Here's the thing, though, about rare plays: They never happen when you're not on the field.
The Bucs didn't try. In a game they so desperately needed to win. In front of their weary home fans. On a night in which the organization honored an all-time great in John Lynch, one of the leaders in the Bucs' late '90s turnaround.
History tells us they should have tried. They had lost 12 straight games in which their opponent had a halftime lead of six or more points. They've lost 36 of 37.
Here's another reason Tampa Bay should have forced Atlanta to punt: It had to kick off to start the second half.
On their first possession of the third quarter, the Falcons got things rolling with a 14-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu. After a couple of Devonta Freeman runs, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones played a brief game of catch.
A recap: Ryan to Jones for 11 yards. Ryan to Jones for 21 yards. Ryan to Jones for 16 yards. Ryan to Jones for 11 yards.
Five plays later, the Falcons were in the end zone celebrating a 26-14 lead.
From the outset Thursday, it was clear that Tampa Bay wasn't going to win a game in which its offense had to match Atlanta score-for-score. The Falcons have too much firepower.
The Bucs needed breaks. When a team is outmanned, it needs to be either smarter or luckier than its opponent. Those few seconds before the end of the second quarter might not have been much, but in there was the chance for at least one more play, maybe two more plays. And, in the end, when players look at the scoreboard and see a dwindling clock, isn't that what they wish they had? More time? More plays?
This is the second straight game in which Koetter has conservatively managed the clock before halftime. Against the Raiders on Sunday, the Bucs took possession from their own 12-yard line with 1:06 left in the second quarter. Tampa Bay had three timeouts.
On first down, Jacquizz Rodgers ran the ball for 4 yards. No timeout. On second down, he ran the ball for 5 yards. No timeout. His next run was a jog back to the locker room as the clock expired. The Bucs took a 10-3 lead into the half but had to kick off to the Raiders to start the third quarter. Oakland promptly drove 75 yards to tie the game at 10.
Jameis Winston, when asked about the team's struggles at home, talked about the need to establish a winning mentality.
"We've got to want to win at home," he said.
If the Bucs want to win, perhaps the next time a team is willing to give them the ball, they should take advantage. Siege the play.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.