They call it the red zone _ that all-important area of the football field wedged between the opponent's 20 and the goal line. This season, the Tampa Bay Bucs have every reason to be red-faced about their performance there.
Through seven games, the Bucs' offense has driven the ball inside its opponents' 20-yard line 26 times. Just 10 of those possessions (or 38.5 percent) have ended in touchdowns. Eleven more (42.3) have resulted in field goals.
In the past three weeks, the Bucs' inability to capitalize down close has been a major factor in their four-point upset losses to Dallas. Counting the 26-14 victory over Green Bay, Tampa Bay has produced just two touchdowns and six field goals on its 10 excursions inside the 20 (or 32 of a possible 70 points).
"We've had so many opportunities," said Bucs receiver Danny Peebles. "We move the ball up and down the field, but as soon as we get down in scoring territory, it goes to hell in a handbasket. That's what we have to correct."
Though neither the NFL nor the Elias Sports Bureau keeps leaguewide averages for red-zone performance, the 1989 Bucs offer some comparison to this year's woes. Last season Tampa Bay made the most of its inside-the-20 scoring chances 55.1 percent of the time (27 touchdowns on 49 drives). Another 15 of those possessions (30.6) ended in field goals.
For a more current comparison, the numbers for the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers are: 18 possessions, nine touchdowns (50 percent) and six field goals.
"We're getting down there four or five times a game, but we really can't get it in," Bucs running back Gary Anderson said. "You like to think you can get that killer instinct to put it away. That's what we've got to get. Once you have a team down, you've got to go ahead and know how to win the game and put it out of reach.
"When you get the chance to put six or seven on the board, that's what you've got to do. A field goal is nice, you're coming away with something, but four extra points would be a lot better."
In Sunday's stunning 17-13 loss to Dallas, the Cowboys' late-strike comeback was made possible by the Bucs' inability to strike early. Two Tampa Bay first-quarter drives reached the Dallas 13- and 6-yard lines, but yielded just three points (a missed 37-yard Steve Christie field goal and a successful 23-yard effort).
Later, with the score tied 10-10 and less than two minutes remaining, the Bucs had to settle for a 32-yard Christie field goal after a 7-yard Chris Chandler-to-Willie Drewrey touchdown pass was erased by a false start call on tackle Paul Gruber.
Down by three rather than seven, the Cowboys awoke long enough to gallop 80 yards in the ensuing 1:33, stealing a win Tampa Bay (4-3) had begun to call its own.
The lack of execution has taken various forms. Penalties, sacks, dropped passes and fumbles all have kept the Bucs out of the end zone at times. Frustrations are apparent, even if answers aren't.
"To be honest, I'm not sure of the real reason for it all," right tackle Rob Taylor said. "I guess it's just individual people break down here or there. It's been a little bit of a problem. We just haven't got the job done. If you could put your finger on it and say it's one thing, I'm sure they'd fix the problem. It's not one thing. It's a combination of things. But I'm confident we'll get it fixed.
"If we're going to win, if we're going to show any kind of improvement, we're not going to continue on this kind of pace. We've got to get seven points."
Bucs coach Ray Perkins has no secret formulas to eliminate the magnified miscues. Talking about them, he says, won't make them go away.
"It's frustrating, but I'm not worried," Perkins said Monday. "Some of our (mistakes were) just a lack of concentration when we got down the other end of the field. Players have got to take it on themselves to individually concentrate. It's kind of hard for me to concentrate for them."
Inside the 20. The field shrinks. The yards come tough. And the defense digs in for a fight.
"It's two words _ want to," Drewrey said. "You've got to have to want to get the job done and move into the end zone. It's having all 11 players on the same page at the same time. You've got to have everybody working as a machine."
_ Staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.
INSIDE THE 20
Possessions 26 21
Touchdowns 10 13
Field goals 11 6
Total points 103 109
Points per drive 3.96 5.19