TAMPA — The Bucs' loss to the Lions on Sunday did little for their NFC playoff hopes, but not all hope is lost.
Tampa Bay (8-6) still has several scenarios that would result in a playoff appearance, some of which aren't hard to imagine. But there's one key difference after Sunday's loss.
"We took a lot of pride in the fact that we controlled our own destiny," LB Barrett Ruud said. "And now that we have to look for help, it's kind of frustrating. (Other playoff contenders) did help us a little bit, and we'll probably thank them on Thursday or Friday. But right now we're more upset at ourselves."
So, what now? Some scenarios to a wild-card berth, all of which involve the Bucs finishing 10-6:
Perhaps the most plausible path involves the Bucs effectively knocking the Saints out of the postseason. That would require a Saints loss Monday night at Atlanta, followed by a Bucs victory Jan. 2 at New Orleans in the regular-season finale. Also necessary: Wins by the Giants over the Packers and Redskins in their final two games. The Bucs and Saints would have 10-6 records under this scenario, but the Bucs would win the tiebreaker with a better record in common games.
Another path involves the Giants losing their final two games to the Packers and Redskins plus the Packers losing to the Bears in their finale. That would make each team 9-7, giving the Bucs a better record and eliminating any need for tiebreakers.
There are a slew of other scenarios, but there's one common denominator: In every reasonable scenario, the Bucs need to win their final two games to qualify for the postseason.
Two-minute drilled: For the second consecutive game, the Bucs defense broke down in a two-minute situation.
Last week at Washington, the Bucs allowed the Redskins to drive 75 yards before scoring a touchdown with 13 seconds left. The Bucs' victory was preserved when Washington botched the extra point.
Sunday, the Bucs let the Lions drive 58 yards in the final 1:39 to make the tying field goal as regulation time expired.
Against Washington, the Bucs allowed QB Donovan McNabb to complete 8 of 12 passes on the final drive. Against the Lions, the Bucs let QB Drew Stanton go 4-of-8, including passes of 19 and 23 yards.
In an "aggressive" two-minute defense, the Bucs took a bit of a riskier approach and failed.
"It was an aggressive two-minute (defense) because you can't let them get three (points)," coach Raheem Morris said. "So we played man (coverage), helped over the top on Calvin (Johnson) and tried to make somebody else beat you."
The Bucs got nothing from their four-man pass rush during the two-minute drill while Johnson and other receivers exploited the man coverage.
"The bottom line is, in what we call aggressive two-minute, we have to make plays," Ruud said. "If anything (we must) not let them get out of bounds, keep the clock going. We'll re-evaluate it, but we haven't been good in two-minute the last two games."
Hard fight: One of the encouraging developments from Sunday, offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, was the play of Derek Hardman at right guard. Hardman, in his third career appearance, was matched exclusively against Lions rookie DT Ndamukong Suh and held his own.
"The guy he had to go (against) in his (second) start, Ndamukong Suh, is probably the premier defensive tackle in the league right now," Olson said. " … It was good to see it wasn't a total mismatch. We felt like, at times, he — I wouldn't say dominated — but we felt there were times Suh was nowhere to be found in the play."
Lee update: RT James Lee remained hopeful he could shake off his ankle injury and return to the lineup Sunday against the Seahawks. Lee left in the first half against the Lions and did not return. He was at One Buc Place by 7 a.m. Monday getting treatment.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.