Bucs WR Micheal Spurlock could have made excuses for his dropped ball in the end zone with 6:10 remaining in the game. But he knew there was no mitigating the facts.
"It's a play that you have to make, and I didn't make it," he said. "There's nothing else to be said about it. It's a play that I can make in my sleep."
Spurlock didn't haul in what would have been a 49-yard touchdown from QB Josh Freeman that would have pulled the Bucs within a touchdown. The throw was not as well-placed as Freeman would have hoped, arriving slightly behind Spurlock.
"Really, Spurlock beat (the defender), and I needed to put it right on him," Freeman said. "I tried to give him a chance, but either way, the level of difficulty for Micheal Spurlock on that play was just tough."
Still, Spurlock got his hands on the ball and couldn't bring it in. "You're out here to make those plays, and in a big game like this, you just can't have them. You have to make that catch and give your team more time on the clock."
The clock was relevant. The Bucs scored later on that drive, but by then, three more minutes had elapsed, and the Ravens ran out the clock.
Lewis shocked by call
Bucs rookie CB Myron Lewis, getting rare playing time at a critical point, thought he had textbook position on Ravens WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the play that drew a game-changing pass-interference penalty.
Lewis was as surprised as anyone to learn he had been penalized.
"I was real surprised they threw a flag when he actually tried to jump over my back against my will," Lewis said. "I was just out there to play ball."
The aspect of the play that the official ruled illegal was Lewis' use of his right arm to reach back and "arm bar" Houshmandzadeh. But replays showed Lewis wasn't using force. "Basically I was just looking (for the receiver) and leaning," he said.
The Bucs had seen enough progress in Lewis lately to leave third-year player Elbert Mack inactive.
"Once you're doing well in practice, your reward is to play in the game," said Lewis, who had been inactive for five of the first 10 games. "They gave me an opportunity to go out there and show what I've got."
He thought plays such as the one against Houshmandzadeh would lead to more opportunities — and those chances might still come — but the result of the play was quite different than he envisioned.
"That pretty much turned the whole game around," Lewis said. "It was 10-3 going into the half, and for them to have the opportunity to get pass interference called in touchdown range kind of turned the game around for them."
McCoy, D-line harass QB again
One of the positives the Bucs left Baltimore with was their ability to get pressure on the quarterback — most notably from first-round pick DT Gerald McCoy, who had a pair of sacks and is beginning to live up to the expectations that accompany the No. 3 pick in the draft. McCoy split a double-team on his first sack then overpowered OL Tony Moll with a bull rush for his second.
Not that he was celebrating.
"When you get your opportunity, you have to capitalize on them," McCoy said. "But to be honest with you, I'd give all that back for the win. That means nothing to me. I'd rather have a W."
McCoy said the defensive linemen, embattled for much of the season for their lack of a pass rush, took to heart a challenge issued by the coaching staff.
"I've been saying, the coaches told us to turn the dial up and we have," said McCoy, who has three sacks in two games. "Our linemen … can accept the fact that we were the weak point in this defense (early in the season). We weren't getting pressures like we needed to. We weren't getting the quarterback on the ground like we needed to. So, when they said to turn it up in the second half of the season, we all heard it, and we all want to do that because we know how good we can be."
The remaining two sacks came from DE Tim Crowder and SS Sean Jones, who decked QB Joe Flacco after coming through freely on a safety blitz.
After registering just eight sacks through the first nine games of the season, the Bucs now have 10 in their past two games.
Heap of trouble
Wondering how Ravens TE Todd Heap could be so wide open on his 65-yard touchdown reception from QB Joe Flacco in the second quarter? That's what happens when defensive miscues lead to a sure-handed tight end being left unaccounted for, coach Raheem Morris said. The play happened because of a communication breakdown, Morris said, but he declined to name names.
"We had a blown coverage," he said. "I'm never going to point fingers at anybody. We went out there and we had a miscommunication between two players and that's it. The blown coverage is my fault. I'm the coach. There shouldn't be blown coverages. So I'll take all the responsibility for that. I didn't communicate well enough what I wanted."
On the play, Heap released off the line of scrimmage with no defender within several yards. After realizing the breakdown, LB Barrett Ruud gave chase to no avail. "That kind of broke the game open," he said.
Said Heap: "You're never expecting to be that wide open, but (Flacco) saw the same thing I did. … I think his eyes got as wide as mine did. It was a good play, and we needed that touchdown at that point."
Not good enough
As second halves go, the Bucs defense played pretty stout. The Ravens didn't score after halftime and totaled 135 yards after a 214-yard first half. It was the kind of rebound a defense could be proud of — except for one aspect. When the Bucs needed a stop in the closing minutes, the defense gave up three first downs, allowing the Ravens to run out the clock. "We just had to play consistent the whole time," DT Roy Miller said. "We did it the whole game, and we should have finished like that. It's a total team loss." The Bucs had two timeouts remaining when the Ravens took possession with three minutes left while protecting a 17-10 lead. Between the timeouts and the two-minute warning, a defensive stop would have allowed the Bucs offense to have a shot at another come-from-behind win.
Instead, Ravens RB Ray Rice took a short pass 11 yards on second and 9, adding a 16-yard run and two 6-yard runs on the next two plays to give Baltimore more first downs. "When it counted, we didn't get off (the field)," DT Gerald McCoy said. "We have to learn how to finish and get off the field and give our offense a chance." Said coach Raheem Morris: "It was great execution by their team. … Those guys have to execute; we have to execute. We got out-executed in that situation."
Joseph leaves with injury
G Davin Joseph, below, who has been among the Bucs' better offensive players this season, left in the first quarter with a foot injury and didn't return. Neither Joseph nor coach Raheem Morris would comment specifically about the nature or severity of the injury, which forced the Bucs to shoehorn all-purpose lineman Jeremy Zuttah into the right guard position on the fly.
"We all prepare for that," offensive line coach Pete Mangurian said. "That's the inevitability of this game. (Zuttah) has done a great job." It's another scenario where Zuttah has been unexpectedly pressed into a role, just as he was when he filled in for C Jeff Faine for a month this season, allowing G Ted Larsen to overtake Zuttah at left guard.
"He's in a really hard situation," Mangurian said. "He was doing somebody else's job, and then somebody stepped in and got his spot. He's been a pro. That's a hard situation to deal with. He's worked really hard in practice, and he's grown as a player and as a person, and his teammates respect him for the way he's handled it."
If the NFC playoffs started today:
1. NFC South: Atlanta (9-2)
2. NFC North: Chicago (8-3)
3. NFC East: Philadelphia (7-4) *
4. NFC West: St. Louis (5-6) **
5. Wild card: New Orleans (8-3)
6. Wild card: N.Y. Giants (7-4) ***
7. Tampa Bay (7-4)
8. Green Bay (7-4)
* Wins tiebreaker over Giants via head-to-head.
** Wins tiebreaker over Seahawks via head-to-head.
*** Wins tiebreaker over Bucs (strength of victory, .389 to .253) and Packers (better NFC record, 5-2 vs. 5-3).
Bucs S Cody Grimm, enjoying an impressive rookie campaign in an unplanned starting capacity, suffered a broken left fibula while blocking for CB Aqib Talib on an interception return in the second quarter. With five games remaining in the regular season, Grimm's injury likely is season-ending.
A Ravens player fell on Grimm's leg from behind while Grimm's foot was planted in the turf. As trainers reached Grimm on the field, they immediately called for the a cart to take him to the locker room.
Asked what impact Grimm's loss would have, coach Raheem Morris said, "He's our starter. You lose a starter in the game and a guy who's been playing well for us throughout the season. (Then) you have to go out there with a guy who has had limited reps and a guy who didn't have as much opportunity this week is always going to be hurtful."
That guy who entered the game was Sabby Piscitelli, the player Grimm beat out for the starting job when the Bucs were forced to replace standout Tanard Jackson after his NFL substance-abuse suspension.
Piscitelli likely will be the starter going forward.