Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense sputters in 16-10 loss to Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — Greg Schiano earned a reputation in the NFL last week for being the tough-talking Bucs first-year coach who stomps on etiquette and won't allow his team to stop playing when the outcome is at hand and the opposing quarterback is taking a knee.

But after Sunday's 16-10 loss to the Cowboys, another label can be attached to the coach this season.

He leads a team that will fight hard and force turnovers but find ways to lose leads, and then games, on the road.

"We need to stop being known for the kneel-down play," Schiano said. "We need to start being known for winning games — tight football games. That's what I have to do as the head football coach."

The Bucs defense pummeled Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in what he called "one of the most physically tough games I've been a part of," sacking him four times and forcing him to lose two fumbles and an interception.

But this time it was Tampa Bay's offense that sabotaged any chance of winning.

Quarterback Josh Freeman had one of the worst statistical performances of his four-year career, going 6-of-20 for 39 yards passing (20 yards net) before the Bucs' final possession. (He finished 10-of-28 for 110 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.)

Although he led the Bucs to a field goal with 44 seconds remaining — sparked by his only completion in the game to receiver Vincent Jackson, for 29 yards — the drive was low-lighted by two curious running plays to rookie Doug Martin, including one on third and 9 from the Tampa Bay 21-yard line that lost 2 yards.

On that play, Freeman said his helmet communicator went out and he checked to a running play.

"I heard personnel, then 'Here we go, Free,' and then 'pfffft,' " Freeman said.

That's why, trailing by nine with 2:13 remaining, the Bucs quarterback saw the play clock draining and checked to a Martin sweep to the right.

"A lot of times in games you do things you wish you could have back, and that's one of them," Schiano said.

The second straight loss on the road to an NFC East team dropped the Bucs to 1-2 and into a second-place tie in the NFC South with Carolina, two games behind first-place Atlanta (3-0).

To make matters worse, several Bucs players were fearful that defensive end Adrian Clayborn might have suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second half on a play in which defensive tackle Gerald McCoy got his second sack of the day.

Clayborn was scheduled to be examined today.

"I lost one of my best friends on the team today, Adrian Clayborn," said defensive end Michael Bennett. "I would give anything to get him back on this team."

How rare was it for the Bucs to waste such a great defensive effort?

Since 1997, Tampa Bay was 34-2 when the defense generated at least three turnovers and three sacks in a game.

Bennett and McCoy had two sacks apiece, each forcing a Romo fumble. Neither play was ruled a fumble by on-field officials, but both were reversed by replay officials after Schiano challenges.

One of those reversals came with the Bucs trailing 10-7. They appeared to take the lead after Bennett sacked Romo and his fumble was scooped up at the Dallas 31 by cornerback Eric Wright, who ran it in for a touchdown. The play, which initially wasn't ruled a fumble, was overturned on review, but by rule, because officials had blown the play dead, the Bucs had to take possession at the spot of the fumble.

But the Bucs could not take advantage. Three Freeman incompletions, including an intentional grounding penalty on first down, took them out of field goal range.

"We created turnovers, two sack-fumbles, an interception," safety Ronde Barber said. "Those things win for you."

The steady drumbeat that helped the Bucs defense pound Romo was the pressure generated by the front four. McCoy said he went to Schiano and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan last week and asked if they could eliminate stunts and allow a straight-ahead pass rush.

"I said, 'If it doesn't work, we'll go back to whatever,' " McCoy said. "We took full advantage."

A week ago, despite forcing the Giants' Eli Manning into throwing three interceptions, it was Tampa Bay's defense that was the culprit in a 41-34 loss, allowing a franchise-worst 604 yards.

"We have to get it all together," Schiano said. "We're playing good enough football in areas at times to win. We're just not playing together to win."

It's enough to bring a team to its knees.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense sputters in 16-10 loss to Dallas Cowboys 09/23/12 [Last modified: Monday, September 24, 2012 10:44am]

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