TAMPA — One game.
Sixty minutes of football separated the Storm from making the playoffs for an Arena Football League-record 18th time. But in the end, an 8-10 record wasn't good enough for the five-time champs.
"I was pleased with our effort, our enthusiasm, how hard these guys worked," coach Dave Ewart said. "But yes, it's a disappointment to not still be playing."
A win July 21 at Spokane would have put Tampa Bay in the playoffs. Instead, it lost 63-53, and Georgia and New Orleans earned the American Conference's final two berths.
"You can point to a game here or a game there," Ewart said. "But we just didn't get it done ultimately."
The Storm failed to reach the postseason for just the fourth time but second season in a row.
"We came up a little short," Ewart said. "Everyone, starting with myself, needs to be a little better."
There were bright sports for the Storm, starting with an improvement from its 7-11 record of a year ago. The offense finished sixth among 17 teams at 304.6 yards per game and eighth at 56.7 points per game. Prechae Rodriguez, a graduate of Tampa's Jefferson High, is a rookie of the year candidate after leading Tampa Bay in catches (125), receiving yards (1,653) and touchdowns (32).
"Prechae was very good for us," Ewart said. "All of our receivers were."
Chandler Williams caught 83 passes for 996 yards and 17 touchdowns before signing with the Canadian Football League and missing the final six games. He also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and led the league at 23 yards per return.
"It was tough not having a net man," Ewart said. "That's something we'll have to address in the offseason."
After shuffling through five starting quarterbacks in 2011, the Storm improved vastly with Stephen Wasil and Nick Hill.
Hill, one of the league's top free agents before the season, signed with the NFL's Packers two weeks before the Storm opened training camp. Wasil (294-of-489 for 3,666 yards, 71 touchdowns and 17 interceptions) played well but gave way to Hill (114-of-168, 1,447 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions) when he re-signed in early June.
"Stephen came in and was a gunslinger for us," Ewart said. "And I thought Nick did well in limited time. It was a crazy situation, though."
The Storm's biggest weakness was the defense, which allowed a league-high 61.6 points per game while struggling to muster a consistent pass rush.
"It's tough to play man-to-man (coverage) when you don't get a good rush," Ewart said.
Tampa Bay also led the league at 71.2 penalty yards per game.
With all players on one-year contracts until a collective bargaining agreement is reached, it's hard to tell what the Storm will look like next season. Tampa Bay opened with 10 rookies on its roster this season, but Ewart said he is excited to bring back the core of this team.
"You go from coaching 34-year-olds to 24-year-olds, and that's a huge difference," he said. "We had to teach a lot of these guys the indoor game, but I think we have a good nucleus going into next year."