Bucs lose their nerve, and the game

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, trailing linebacker Lavonte David into the locker room after the game, is nearly at a loss for words after a 21-0 lead turns into a 27-24 overtime loss: “Somehow, we found a way to not win.”
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, trailing linebacker Lavonte David into the locker room after the game, is nearly at a loss for words after a 21-0 lead turns into a 27-24 overtime loss: “Somehow, we found a way to not win.”
Published Nov. 4, 2013


This time, the culprit was not inefficiency, although it has been many times before.

This time, it was hard to blame a lack of discipline, although that, too, has bitten the Bucs throughout this season.

This time, you could not blame the running game, or the secondary, or the offensive line. This time, it was not because of missed tackles or blown opportunities or mismatches or injuries or bad luck.

This time, the Bucs lost their boldness, and with it, they lost a 27-24 game in overtime that should have been theirs.

For a half, mind you, the Bucs were as bold as anyone could ask them to be. They were the Light Brigade. They were the Flying Wallendas. They were the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

As the Bucs built a 24-7 lead in the third quarter over the Seahawks, one of the finest teams in the NFC, they were in full attack mode. They tried an onside kick. They threw a jump pass for a touchdown. They attacked the first-down markers.

For 2½ quarters, they were almost flawless. They converted seven of eight third-down opportunities, and Mike Glennon hit 10 of 11 passes, and Mike James rambled for 82 of his 158 yards.

And then, with a huge lead, it all switched off.

Sometimes, when a team is a decided underdog, it can even the field with its aggressiveness. It can keep the other team on its heels. For a long time Sunday, that seemed to be the case.

Ah, but then came the late going, and the Bucs played it safe.

A few minutes later, they were 0-8.

Consider: There were 25 seconds to play in regulation, and the Bucs had fourth and 3 at the 50-yard line. Now, if the teams are close to even, or if they are playing on a neutral field, or if the Bucs had a lead, then punting is absolutely the way to play the situation. You kick it high, and you kick it far, and you kick it quickly.

This time, however, the Bucs were a decided underdog, and they were on the road in front of a hostile crowd, and the Seahawks were churning up ground as if the offensive line was driving harvesters. Why not go for it? What are you afraid of losing? Your chance at the playoffs?

Think about it. At that point, what was the Bucs' best chance of winning? Was it taking a shot at midfield? Or was it forcing overtime and hoping for the best? Was it going for the kill? Or was it playing it the way the Amos Alonzo Stagg Handbook dictates?

Sometimes, an underdog has to take a swing at somebody's chin. Sometimes, it has to decide that it's going to win a game now, on this play, in this situation. Face it, by then the Bucs were just holding on. They punted on their last five possessions of the game, and they didn't gain more than one first down on any of them, and they missed on their last five third-down plays.

Here's a question: What made coach Greg Schiano think that his team was going to drive it 80 yards in overtime?

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So why not take a deep breath and try to make a play? If you succeed, you're a genius. And if you miss? Well, the Seahawks took over with 16 seconds to play. They would have had to make a play or two to win in regulation, too.

As for the Bucs, they punted.

And they lost.

Granted, it is harder to kick the Bucs around today than it has been after most of their losses. In the first half, they played better than anyone expected. James was excellent, and Glennon was efficient, and the defense made the impressive Russell Wilson look ordinary for a half.

But losing is losing, and the Bucs did that again, too. Just because you thought so little of the Bucs coming in shouldn't buy them too much praise.

"I honestly don't know what to say," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "I don't want to say, 'Oh, we played good.' Because it really doesn't matter. We lost.

"I'm tired of losing. I'm tired of losing. We have to stop finding ways to beat ourselves. Somehow, we found a way to not win."

More and more, that seems to be the calling card for this team. It loses. It is oh-for-the-first-half of this season, and it has lost 13 of its past 14. In games decided by three points or fewer, the Bucs are 0-7 over the past two years. They are not a good second-half team. They are not a good fourth-quarter team. They are not good at closing doors.

With a chance to win, they are also not good at going for it.

Every now and again, it might be nice to see them try.