TAMPA — If touchdowns were awarded for reaching the red zone, the Bucs might have lit up the scoreboard Sunday.
But alas, six points are earned only by reaching the end zone, and the Bucs' shortcomings in scoring position were frustrating and frequent for them.
Three times the Bucs marched past the Cowboys 20-yard line, and Tampa Bay came away with six points — and nothing on their final, frantic possession that ended at the Dallas 18.
"We focus on the red zone more than any time," coach Jon Gruden said. "It's not (about) focusing on the red zone. It's about getting it done down there and we have had chances to make some plays. … Third down and 1, you are at the (18-) yard line, it is our No. 1 short yardage play and we got stuffed."
Gruden was referring to a situation with 11:44 left in the first quarter where RB Earnest Graham was dropped for no gain, forcing the Bucs to kick a 36-yard field goal.
On their next possession, QB Jeff Garcia was penalized for an illegal forward pass, putting the Bucs in a third-and-14 dilemma at the Dallas 18. That set up a 36-yard field goal.
The failures had players searching and had Gruden looking in the mirror Monday.
"There are also some instances where we've got to do a better job," Gruden said. "Third down and 1 on the opening possession, we've got to convert that play. There are a couple other situations throughout the year that we just haven't cashed in on. We haven't done it, we haven't gotten it done. As a play-caller and an offensive coach, at times you've got take responsibility for it."
CLOSING THE DEAL: Amazingly, the Bucs entered Sunday without recording a sack in three games. Clearly, DE Gaines Adams wasn't happy about it.
Adams had his second multi-sack game with two takedowns of Cowboys QB Brad Johnson.
"Getting the pressure is (good), but the sack, I guess you could say it finishes the deal," Adams said.
Though Tampa Bay boasts the league's No. 5 defense (277.6 yards a game), the lack of sacks in recent seasons has been somewhat alarming. The Bucs are tied for 17th in sacks with 14.
NICE DEBUT, KIND OF: RB Clifton Smith made his NFL debut as the primary kick and punt returner. He showed there are signs of hope for the return game, even though coaches have moved on from rookie Dexter Jackson.
But Smith committed a big no-no by fumbling the opening kickoff of the second half. Still, Gruden seemed willing to take an objective look.
"I thought he was decisive," Gruden said. "I thought he caught the ball well. I thought he was north and south. Obviously, the fumble to start the second half, you don't want that. It cost us a possession and changed the momentum a little bit, especially after they had scored. … To go in there and return punts and kicks and contribute a little bit from scrimmage, that's just another guy on the football team who stepped up (Sunday)."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.