TAMPA — Sixty-nine minutes. That's how long the Bucs and coach Dirk Koetter had to talk about what proved to be a great chance for a winning drive. Sixty-nine minutes during a weather delay.
All that time, but somehow, they mismanaged the clock.
Trailing the Rams 37-32, the game ended Sunday on second down when Jameis Winston was tackled from behind by defensive end Robert Quinn at the Los Angeles 5-yard line as the Bucs quarterback more or less tiptoed toward the end zone, pump-faking a pass that had become illegal to throw.
Koetter walked off the field at Raymond James Stadium with, still in his pocket, one of the two timeouts he had when the drive started.
"I've got to complete the ball. That's the main thing," said Winston, who passed for a career-high 405 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception.
"I had Vincent Jackson wide open for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. That's just pitch and catch. I had Vincent Jackson wide open for another big completion. That's just pitch and catch. I overthrew him. I had Charles Sims on a little check-down and overthrew him. But I'm going to get better. I guarantee you I will get better."
It was a devastating loss to a Rams team that had not scored a touchdown this season until Sunday. And it came after the Bucs (1-2) opened a 10-point lead in the second quarter, only to see Los Angeles' league-worst offense help the Rams reel off 21 straight points. The killer was a 77-yard return of a fumble by defensive tackle Ethan Westbrooks after Winston was sacked by Quinn and lost the ball.
Making the mountain steeper were Bucs rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo's missed extra point and 41-yard field goal.
Winston twice brought the Bucs back to within one score, with a touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Brate and another to Mike Evans with 2:15 remaining.
But with the Rams facing third and 11 at their 5, referee Ed Hochuli called for a weather delay because of a thunderstorm approaching Raymond James Stadium from the east.
"Both offense and defense, the coaches met and talked about the strategy," Koetter said of the delay. "What we were going to do defensively. It was going to be one play basically to get off the field, what the punt return was going to be. We had a list of plays. We figured we'd only have one timeout left and maybe we would get the ball somewhere on the 35-yard line."
When play resumed, Rams quarterback Case Keenum threw incomplete along the sideline, allowing Koetter to have both timeouts after the two-minute warning.
The Bucs took over at their 44, and Winston completed three passes to move the Bucs to the Rams' 27 with 49 seconds remaining.
On the next play, he threw short to Sims, who gained 12 yards to the Rams' 15 but failed to get out of bounds.
Unbelievably, Koetter did not call his first of the two timeouts. This despite having assigned Andrew Weidinger, the assistant receivers and game-management coach, to help him remember end-of-game situations.
It's an end-of-game scenario Koetter said he worried about before the season because he is also the play-caller.
"Yeah, there was an opportunity (to call timeout)," Koetter said. "I got a lot of confidence in our two-minute (drill), and I sometimes push the envelope on that, on getting to the next play. I thought we were slow getting lined up on that next one. I thought we still had time to check it down again and use it. But as it worked out, we were a little slow, so I probably should've used (the timeout) there."
Instead, the clock ran down to 26 seconds when Winston threw high to Jackson. He missed Jackson again in the end zone and was wild high to Sims, but a pass interference penalty gave the Bucs at first down at the Rams' 15 with nine seconds left.
After an incompletion to Brandon Myers that stopped the clock with four ticks left, Koetter then used his first timeout.
On the next play, Winston scrambled out of the pocket and crossed the line of scrimmage, but he never fully committed to put his head down and diving for the end zone.
"I was just trying to bait them and get closer to the end zone," Winston said. "In that moment, I've just got to give somebody a chance in the end zone. That was just dumb on my part."
Perhaps, but who knows what would've happened if he had had a little more time?