TAMPA — Not killing the clock before halftime has been lethal for the Bucs the past two weeks, and coach Raheem Morris says he is to blame.
It happened again in Sunday's 38-7 loss to the Saints. The Bucs trailed 10-7 to start a possession at their 25-yard line with 2:09 left in the first half.
But the Bucs went three and out, failing to gain a yard. Worse yet just 31 seconds elapsed, on two incomplete passes by rookie quarterback Josh Freeman, including one on third and 10.
The Saints, who boast the NFL's No. 1 scoring offense, needed just 1:10 to drive 63 yards in five plays for a touchdown and a 17-7 lead.
"That's on me. Completely," Morris said Monday. "That's my decision; those are things I can say to call off the dogs. But when you're playing a team like the Saints and you have an opportunity to go down and get three, I was trying to steal it. I probably shouldn't have. I probably shouldn't have played so aggressive. That's a question mark completely for me right there."
A week ago, a controversial interception by the Dolphins' Jason Taylor and the Bucs' three and out in the final 1:25 before halftime enabled the Dolphins to push their lead to 19-6.
"The clock management, as far as running the clock out, we could've gone to halftime probably and gotten some of that time off and knocked some of that stuff out of there," Morris said. "But you've just got so much confidence in the young man (Freeman), you just never know when it's going to come. Because you've seen it happen the last couple of weeks. It just didn't happen for him (Sunday).
"…The confidence you have in the young man, in the kid, just giving him an opportunity to go out there and win. If you had a big-time stud like we think we're going to have here sooner or later, you want to go down there and attack them and try to steal three."
Instead, Freeman began the second half by losing a fumble and throwing his second of three interceptions. The Saints took advantage of the short field to convert those turnovers into touchdowns and expand their lead to 31-7.
Freeman had three interceptions, lost a fumble, was sacked three times and had a passer rating of 33.1.
"He made his first real rookie blunder," Morris said of Freeman. "The best thing was he got up there after the game and accepted responsibility for what he did, and he looks to go correct it. That's all you can ask for from a young quarterback. He'll be a better football player from it."
Morris said he wasn't worried about Freeman bouncing back from Sunday's adversity.
"Oh, yeah. He's going to fight through these things," Morris said. "…He's got to go out there and fight through and find a way to get better. We've got to find a way not to throw that interception at the end of the game, he's got to find a way to move the football when we have to, he's got to find a way to pick up the tempo, he's got to find a way to handle all the adversity that you're talking about went on (Sunday). I think he did a nice job with handling the situation, as tough as it was."
Defensively, the Bucs lived down to their 32nd overall ranking — last in the NFL — against the run; they are allowing 168.9 yards per game. The Saints ran on 22 of their final 24 snaps and finished with 183 yards rushing, 92 by Pierre Thomas and 75 (with two scores) by Mike Bell.
"Early in the game, we did a nice job of stopping the run," Morris said. "Then they came downhill on us and took advantage of some open gaps. Really, they won the game by attrition in their running game. We've got to get more people playing, more people being productive."