1. Bucs

Bucs-Saints: The finger-pointing begins

The Bucs blew a 14-3 first half lead as the Saints defense sacked Jameis Winston four times and hit him 10 other times.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) has words with center Ryan Jensen (66) during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) has words with center Ryan Jensen (66) during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Published Dec. 10, 2018
Updated Dec. 10, 2018

TAMPA — This may be one of the images to best illustrate the Bucs season, which once again won't end in a winning record.

After watching Ryan Jensen commit two penalties that cost the Bucs 25 yards on one drive in the second quarter, Jameis Winston engaged in a sideline scuffle with his veteran center. Offensive line coach George Warhop then did a better job of protecting the Bucs quarterback than his line did Sunday, stepping in between them.

It did not prevent Jensen from standing up and thrusting a digit in Winston's face.

For the Bucs, it's finger pointing time.

Blowing a 11-point halftime lead Sunday, the Bucs were shutout in the second half as the Saints rallied to a 28-14 win and celebrated clinching their second straight NFC South title at Raymond James Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Bucs fell to 5-8, all but mathematically eliminating them from any realistic playoff hopes.

Winston had one of his worst days throwing the football and was under duress all afternoon by the Saints defense, which sacked him four times and hit him on 10 other occasions. Five other times he escaped pressure to rush for a team-high 47 yards.

Winston finished 18 of 38 passing for 213 yards with two touchdowns and an interception that came in the end zone on a last-gasp drive.

His 47.3 completion percentage was the second-worst in a game in Winston's career and his lowest since a 47.2 percent performance at Houston as a 2015 rookie.

"Jameis got hit too many times today,'' coach Dirk Koetter said. "You can't have your quarterback getting hit that many times, whether it's scrambling, running, four sacks. We can't get him hit that much.''

While pointing fingers, aim one in the direction of the Bucs special teams. One big swing of momentum doomed the Bucs in the second half.

Winston's 36-yard pass to Mike Evans set up the first of two TD passes to tight end Cameron Brate in the first half.

And to start the second half, the Bucs got a break when defensive end Carl Nassib sacked and stripped the ball from Drew Brees, and Jason Pierre-Paul recovered at the New Orleans 27.

A touchdown there makes it a three score game. But instead, the Bucs failed to pick up a first down and Cairo Santos, who had made his first 15 kicks this season (12 extra points, three field goals) missed from 40 yards when the ball clanged off the right upright.

On the Bucs next possession, they picked up two first downs before Bryan Anger had his punt blocked by the Saints' Taysom Hill, who was turned loose on the play.

"I came free,'' Hill said. "Both the tackle and the wing set on Alex (Okafor) and my whole thing was just don't miss the ball because I got there really early.''

Five plays later, quarterback Drew Brees flipped a 1-yard TD pass to fullback Zach Line and Alvin Kamara ran in it for the two-point conversion.

The Bucs still had a 14-11 lead at that point, but momentum had clearly taken a seat on the Saints' sidelines.

Point a finger at Winston, too. He was turnover free until his final throw, but he missed some open receivers and held onto the football too long at times. After the punt block, he was sacked twice in three plays in the next series, the last by Cam Jordan for a loss of 13 yards.

Winston also couldn't connect with receiver Chris Godwin, targeting him 10 times but completing only one pass for 13 yards.

The Bucs defense wore down. The Saints had only three yards rushing in the first half but finished with 100 on 30 carries. Brees capped the go-ahead drive with a 1-yard TD run when he stretched the ball over the goal line on fourth-and-1.

Point a finger at Koetter, whose No. 1 offense was grounded. The Bucs second-half possessions went like this: missed field goal, blocked punt, punt, punt, punt, interception.

"Our defense was on the field way too much in the second half,'' Koetter said. "They totally shut us down in the second half.''

Bucs receiver Adam Humphries said the Saints mixed up their coverage. "I had a tough time reading what they were doing,'' he said.

Point a finger at Jensen, the league's highest-paid center at $5.5-million per year after signing in March as a Ravens free agent. The Bucs raved about Jensen's nasty 'attitude,' when he arrived in Tampa Bay. But he leads the team in penalties with nine accepted for 100 yards. Worse yet, four of them are for unnecessary roughness. No player on the Bucs team has more than one of those.

"I've hurt this team a couple different times this year with stupid, selfish penalties and I've got to be more disciplined in that aspect,'' Jensen said.

After the game, Jensen dismissed the ugly sideline spat with Winston as a disagreement between brothers.

"We're fighting and competing our butts off and when that happens, guys get hot,'' Jensen said. "Like I've said before, me and Jameis cleared the air right away. He went his way, I went my way. We came back and talked in like two seconds and everything was good.''

Be careful, Bucs. When you point a finger, there are three fingers pointing back at the real problem.

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow @NFLStroud