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Why not be bold and go for it, Tampa Bay Buccaneers?


Times are desperate, so you go for it.

The team is winless, so you go for it. Victory is 12 feet away, so you go for it.

The season has already slipped away, and there is nothing left to lose (besides a dozen or so more games). And you are on the road. So you go for it.

The quarterback is too new to carry the offense, and the defense is spotty, and the kicker might be flipping burgers by Wednesday. So you go for it.

You go for it. Say it again. Shout it out loud. Write it down and spread it around. You go for it.

Unless, of course, you are the Tampa Bay Bucs, in which case you kick a field goal.

Shortly afterward, you lose. Again.

This time, the fall of the 0-4 Bucs can be traced to a single decision. This time, the Bucs weren't bold enough, weren't aggressive enough, to snatch defeat from the Redskins in Sunday's 16-13 loss. This time, a victory was there to be had, and the Bucs didn't go for it.

Flash back, if you will, to a fourth-and-4 play from the Washington 4 with 4:30 to play. The Bucs trailed 16-10, but the offense had finally awakened for its only real drive of the second half. One throw, and the lead could be theirs again.

Instead, Bucs coach Raheem Morris decided to kick the field goal. And when Mike Nugent's deflected kick barely cleared the crossbar, the Bucs were within three. Give them credit for that. Forever, when people look up the final score, they will be within three. Yay.

"I felt good about the defense at that point," Morris said. "We wanted to stop them, get the ball back, have an opportunity to go down there and put this thing into overtime. Or to win it. I felt really good about that. It worked out in our favor."

Actually, if you trust the scoreboard, it did not.

Look, for a great team, even for a very good one, Morris' strategy might have been the right one. But not for this one.

For the Bucs to win, there were just too many things that would have had to go right in the final minutes. Morris needed the defense to make a stop. He needed the offense to make a drive. He needed the kicker to make a kick. These days, it's an upset when any one of those things happens, let alone all three in a row.

So why not take a shot at the end zone? Maybe on a rollout where Josh Johnson could throw or run. Maybe on a pass where Antonio Bryant has a chance to make a play. Even if they didn't make it, they would have left the Redskins on their 4-yard line, which means the Bucs should have been able to get the ball back in great field position.

"You can what-if a whole bunch of different things," Morris said.

Yes. For example, you can what-if 1-3 instead of 0-4.

Let's see. For Morris' plan to work, the Bucs defense had to stop the Redskins, who had scored on three of their previous four possessions. Still, given what the Redskins did on offense for much of the day, that was the easy part. And sure enough, the Bucs got the ball back, but only after the Redskins chewed more than two minutes off the clock.

After that, the Bucs had to turn the ball over to their own offense, whose only touchdown drive Sunday was 10 yards. Much of that, of course, was because Johnson was making his first career start, and it showed. Johnson wasn't awful, but he wasn't as productive as a starting NFL quarterback needs to be, either.

For the day, Johnson gave himself "a C, maybe less." That's about right. Johnson has some intriguing skills, but he never gave anyone the sense his team was going to light it up. Of the Bucs' 12 drives, only two of them gained more than 30 yards. Seven of them gained 10 yards or less.

In other words, moving the ball 45 yards or so in the final seconds was a lot to ask of Johnson. And sure enough, the Bucs' last drive lasted only two plays before Clifton Smith fumbled.

Which brings up this question: Clifton Smith?

Can someone explain why Smith, and not Cadillac Williams, is in the game at that point? On the Bucs' previous drive, the one for the field goal, Williams caught three passes for 16 yards and ran four times for 29 yards.

"I felt like I was getting into that zone where every cut, every read was the right read," Williams said. "Everything was slowing down. I'm like, 'Man, let's feed me.' "

For the record, Williams wasn't criticizing the decision to use Smith as the two-minute back. The rest of us, however, should feel free to do so. It's basic coaching that, with the game on the line, the best players are on the field.

Finally, there is this: How far would the Bucs have had to drive into Washington territory before you felt Nugent was going to make a field goal? The 20? The 10? On top of the middle "S" in the Redskins sign painted in the middle of the end zone? If there aren't kickers trying out at One Buc this week, it means they've lost the goal posts.

Why not? At 0-4, it seems they've lost everything else.

Why not be bold and go for it, Tampa Bay Buccaneers? 10/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 4, 2009 10:03pm]
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