Jones: An answer to anyone who says the Bucs played hard

Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drops back to pass against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drops back to pass against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Published Dec. 24, 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Here's one way to look at the Bucs' 22-19 loss to playoff-bound Carolina on Sunday:

They played hard. They played well. They probably deserved to win and would have had it not been for a handful of bad plays and bad luck and maybe a couple of bad calls. Overall, however, they played better than their opponent.

That's a nice sentiment and might give you enough of the warm fuzzies to forget that Tampa Bay has lost five in a row and is 4-11.

But here's how you SHOULD look at the Bucs loss on Sunday:

Who cares about playing hard? Take your well-played game and stuff it. And forget about which team deserved to win.

Bad football teams find ways to lose games and Tampa Bay is a bad football team, no matter what it says.

"We aren't a bad football team,'' Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "It's just not going our way. Look how that game ended.''

It's true, some goofy stuff happened Sunday. The Bucs might have stopped Carolina on a critical fourth-and- inches. They might have gotten a raw call on a Jameis Winston fumble that sealed the game. But that's the NFL. Games come down to a handful of plays.

Good teams make them and overcome some lousy luck. Bad teams can't get out of their own way. The Bucs are the latter. This is who they are. If there's a bad play to made, they make it. If there's a game to be lost, they find it.

"It's a combination of a lot of factors and I can't put my finger on all of them for you,'' Bucs safety T.J. Ward said. "When you lose, there are a lot of factors going on.''

Ward is right. There are lots of factors.


Like your quarterback fumbling three times. Like your special teams giving up a 103-yard kickoff return. Like your punt team falling asleep and allowing a fake punt to turn into a first down because of pass interference. Like your kicker missing a makeable field goal in a game lost by three points.

"Games come down to final plays and we just haven't been the lucky team to have them bounce our way,'' Bucs receiver Adam Humphries said.

If you removed the scoring plays from Sunday's game tape and asked a neutral observer to guess which team won, you'd probably say the Bucs. Then you start reviewing the whole season.

The Bucs had a chance to beat the Patriots on the last play of the game. They lost to the Packers in overtime. They lost in the final few seconds on a field goal to the Lions. They missed a field goal to send last week's game against Atlanta to overtime. They had a late lead against the Bills.

Turn those games around and the Bucs are 9-6 right now. Heck, they've lost their last four by a total of 15 points. But even coach Dirk Koetter scoffed when asked if he took any solace.

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"Come on,'' he said. "I don't take any solace.''

He shouldn't. He knows. Even a hapless team like the winless Browns would win a few games if you changed just a couple of plays each game. Everyone agrees that the Bucs are playing hard, but the bottom line is they are 4-11 because they deserve to be 4-11.

The next question is, who gets blamed for the 4-11?

Is it Koetter? He certainly isn't coaching players to jump offside and botch the center-quarterback exchange, to miss tackles and field goals. But all this garbage is going on under his watch.

Is it general manager Jason Licht? He certainly has put some solid players in place, but the Bucs still don't have a pass rush or running game.

Is it Winston? He has put together back-to-back impressive passing games, but his three fumbles are like a like finding a hair in your soup. Ruins everything.

The Bucs have plenty of games with great effort and close calls. What they don't have are many victories.

And that's all the matters in the NFL.

Contact Tom Jones at Follow @tomwjones.