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Bucs offense struggles in third quarter

Receivers Chris Owusu, left, and Vincent Jackson celebrate Jackson’s touchdown against Atlanta. Among the Bucs’ 24 third-quarter points, 21 were in two games against Atlanta.
Receivers Chris Owusu, left, and Vincent Jackson celebrate Jackson’s touchdown against Atlanta. Among the Bucs’ 24 third-quarter points, 21 were in two games against Atlanta.
Published Dec. 5, 2013

TAMPA — Coach Greg Schiano has always preached to his team that the clock is its enemy. If that's true, the 12 minutes at halftime have been the Bucs' toughest opponent this season.

Tampa Bay has gone scoreless in the third quarter in nine of its dozen games. For that matter, the Bucs average 5.6 points in the second half, the fewest in the league.

When you consider all that happens between the end of the second quarter and the third-quarter kickoff — players take bathroom breaks, adjust equipment and visit the trainers — it doesn't leave many minutes for halftime adjustments.

"Sometimes, I get a kick out of the halftime adjustment," Schiano said. "There are a lot of opportunities when you have more than 12 minutes during the game. You should be adjusting (throughout) the game."

Yet Schiano acknowledges it is a problem. It also is a common topic of conversation between Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, who has tried scripting the opening drive of the third quarter the way he does to start the game.

"We need to be able to pick that up in the third and fourth quarter, but it's not for a lack of trying," Schiano said. "The offensive coaches have gone through some different scenarios, different scripting for the openers in the second half; everything you can imagine to try to break the (spell). Two games ago, we came out and scored on the opening drive of the second half. I don't think there was a bigger cheerleader on that drive (than me)."

Break down the breakdowns after halftime, and the picture is worse. Twenty-one of the Bucs' third-quarter points have come in the two games against the Falcons. That means in their 10 other games, the Bucs have been outscored 53-3 in the quarter.

"You look at some of the issues or any of the common threads," Sullivan said. "As always, there are things that I can certainly do better. There are things that we as coaches can do better to get the guys prepared.

"You go back to this previous game (at Carolina). You've put yourself in a position, a couple of big plays and then comes a turnover. I think it's always a bunch of factors that are involved. But I think at the scene of the crime … every one of those things is when we have some sort of significant penalty or sack or just the negative plays that are very, very tethered."

Of course, the reality is the Bucs offense isn't very good whenever the clock is moving. Tampa Bay ranks 31st in the 32-team NFL in total offense at 295.3 yards per game. Injuries have been a big issue. The Bucs have 14 players on injured reserve, the most in the league. Seven — running backs Doug Martin and Mike James, receiver Mike Williams, tight ends Nate Byham Tom Crabtree and Luke Stocker, and linebacker Jonathan Casillas — were starters or significant contributors.

Add to the mix rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, who took over in Week 4, and you have the recipe for a poor offense. The past two games, at Detroit and Carolina, the Bucs had their lowest output of the season, 229 yards and 206 yards, respectively.

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"We've had our issues over the course of the year, offensively, for a lot of different reasons," Schiano said. "Whether it was phasing guys in from a health standpoint, losing guys as we were phasing guys, or just didn't play very well enough or coach well enough. And the third and fourth quarter are inclusive in that."

Former Bucs coach Sam Wyche, so befuddled by a lack of productivity in the second half, once made his team practice halftimes, stopping the workout for 12 minutes and taking players inside the locker room. The results didn't change.

"I think that's a term that's overused, those halftime adjustments," Glennon said. "Maybe a wrinkle here or there but nothing major that would alter our game plan."

Or, apparently, the scoreboard.