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Bucs lose another late lead, fall to Falcons

Bucs quarterback Josh McCown scrambles for a yard in the second half. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
Bucs quarterback Josh McCown scrambles for a yard in the second half. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Nov. 10, 2014

TAMPA — Bucs quarterback Josh McCown fell into the arms of offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo in the locker room and sobbed like he had lost more than a football game Sunday. On his way to his postgame news conference, he hugged coach Lovie Smith's wife, MaryAnne, and the tears flowed. When he got to the podium and was asked why he was so emotional after the 27-17 loss to the Falcons, McCown looked down and took five seconds to compose himself before answering.

"One and eight," McCown said, his voice cracking. "One and eight and, uh, one and eight. You want to give your teammates and the coaches and the fans and your family and everybody here better than that. It just hurts. It hurts."

Making his first start since injuring his right thumb against the Falcons in Week 3, McCown passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns before throwing two late interceptions.

The Bucs blew a fourth-quarter lead for the fifth time this season — the most in the NFL — and matched the start from 2013 that eventually got Greg Schiano fired as head coach. McCown, 35, who signed a two-year, $10 million contract in March and was immediately named the starter, fell to 0-4.

"It doesn't matter (how I played). We lost," McCown said. "We lost. As a quarterback, it starts with me. I've got to be better. It's disappointing. This game, man, you go and prepare with guys every week, and coaches, and they grind you. Everybody puts their time in and works so hard. You lay it out there for each other, and when you walk off and come up short week in and week out, it hurts. That's what hurts.

"And you realize the fans, they come to this game, and whatever else is going on in their life, they want to come be in this stadium to watch us win football games and bring them joy. So all of that … man, to not be able to do that, to not be able to give that to ourselves, our teammates, our coaches, our fans, it just hurts."

The Bucs took the lead 17-16 on McCown's 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins with 14:18 left in the game. But the Falcons dominated the rest of the quarter, with Matt Ryan throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White and a two-point conversion toss to Harry Douglas. Matt Bryant kicked his fourth field goal with 4:10 remaining to give Atlanta a 10-point lead.

The Bucs hurt themselves with penalties as they were flagged 10 times for 79 yards. Three of those infractions came on third down that resulted in first downs for the Falcons.

None was bigger than when Bucs cornerback Johnthan Banks was called for illegal contact on third and 6 at the Tampa Bay 16 and the Bucs clinging to a one-point lead. Two plays later, Ryan hit White for the go-ahead touchdown.

None was more ridiculous than the one after Seferian-Jenkins' touchdown reception. He stood on the football and posed with his arms folded, drawing a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike contact because of an illegal celebration.

Seferian-Jenkins, who dropped a pass and had holding and false start penalties in the game, said he didn't know that you can't use the ball as a prop.

"Have we gone over the rules on celebrations, that you can't use the ball as a prop? Yes," Smith said. "Heat of the battle for a rookie — rookie mistake that we can't have."

The Falcons (3-6) had lost five straight games since blasting the Bucs 56-14 on Sept. 18 at the Georgia Dome. For good reason: Their defense ranked last in the NFL entering the game, and they had only seven sacks all season — three against the Bucs. Atlanta totaled four sacks Sunday.

The loss also spoiled another big receiving day by rookie Mike Evans, who seven catches for 125 yards and another touchdown.

No Bucs player was more despondent than McCown, a 12-year veteran who sees the sand running out of the hourglass for the season — and his career.

"He wants to win," guard Logan Mankins said. "He's doing everything in his power to help us win."

But McCown couldn't hide his frustration, for crying out loud.

"I know and I understand where I'm at in my career," McCown said. "As you get older, the opportunities are less and less, whether you are a franchise quarterback or not. When you're 35 years old, you know the clock is ticking and you don't want to let these moments get away. I think that's why it hurts, because it got away."

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