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Bucs Turning Point, Week 13: Appetite for Self-Destruction

[CAMERON COTTRILL   |   Times]
[CAMERON COTTRILL | Times]
Published Dec. 1, 2014

What a way to close out November.

After starting the month by blowing fourth-quarter leads in back-to-back games, the Buccaneers ended it Sunday by blowing double-digit leads in back-to-back games. The 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals is just the latest in a miserable stretch of games that, if you could give it an album title, you might name it Appetite for Self-Destruction.

And while the Buccaneers (2-10) could blame the weather for their trouble handling the football a week ago against the Chicago Bears, the only precipitation Sunday came in the form of boos, as the home crowd showered its discontent upon a team that beat itself with penalties. Call it Tampa Bay's version of November Rain.

As Axl Rose once said, "Nothing lasts forever / And we all know leads can change / And it's hard to not hold a lineman / That's why the season's down the drain."

With 2:01 remaining, the Buccaneers reached the Cincinnati 31-yard line and were primed to kick the game-winning field goal. Just a few more yards — and no mistakes — and finally they would have their first home win of the season.

But then Garrett Gilkey, starting at center in place of the injured Evan Dietrich-Smith, was called for holding, sending the Buccaneers back 10 yards and out of field goal range. It was Gilkey's second holding penalty of the game (the first was declined) and added to the team's total of 18 this season, which is tied with the Minnesota Vikings for third-most accepted offensive holding penalties.

"We put ourselves in a position to lose today" Gilkey said after the game. "I was a huge part of that, and I recognize that. Definitely this week (head coach Lovie Smith) emphasized a lot on eliminating the self-inflicted wounds. So I know for myself, I allowed far too many."

Still, with 38 seconds left, the game was not over. Hope was restored when Josh McCown hit Louis Murphy over the middle for a 21-yard gain — until a red flag, not a yellow, caused you to recoil like someone had just slammed the car door on your fingers.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis saw what the officials hadn't — the Buccaneers had an extra player on the field —and tossed a challenge flag onto the field. Because coaches can't challenge plays inside two minutes of a half, Cincinnati was charged a timeout, but Lewis still got what he wanted. Officials reviewed the play and penalized the Buccaneers five yards for having 12 players.

In just 17 seconds, the Buccaneers went from 1st-and-5 at the 31-yard line to 2nd-and-20 at the 46. Their win probability in that span plunged from 66 to 26 percent, according to advancedfootballanalytics.com. Two incompletions and a short pass later, the game was over.

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There were so many illegal acts at Raymond James Stadium that Hillsborough County Jail would have made for a more suitable setting. The 12-men penalty was the Buccaneers' 13th of the afternoon, and Sunday's contest was the eighth of their past 10 in which they have committed at least eight penalties. The Bengals committed 10 penalties of their own for 73 yards. That's right — 23 total penalties, or roughly the number of times you hear AC/DC played at the stadium.

From the outset, it seemed as though the Buccaneers were trying to one-up every Bengals mistake. Take, for instance, Andy Dalton's interception on his first pass attempt. The Bucs answered with a false start and by rolling the football instead of snapping it. A drive that should have ended in a touchdown ended in a field goal.

At least they turned that one into points. Points off Dalton's other two first-half picks? Zero.

After taking a 14-10 lead late in the third quarter, the Bengals attempted one of those onside kicks that is "bold" if it succeeds and "ill-advised" if it fails. Turns out, it was ill-advised, and to make matters worse, on the next play defensive tackle Brandon Thompson jumped early and didn't stop until Josh McCown hit the turf harder than Slash after an overdose. A short field for the Bucs became even shorter when Thompson was penalized for unnecessary roughness.

And what did the Buccaneers do with the all-expenses-paid trip to the red zone? The offensive offensive line committed two more penalties and allowed a sack on 3rd-and-16 despite having six men to block four Bengals rushers.

Once again, they had to settle for a field goal, and their win probability fell from 47 percent when the drive started to 41 percent.

With the addition of this loss to the Bengals, the Buccaneers have built a compelling case for least clutch team in the NFL. They've held five double-digit leads and blown all but one of them (Washington). They've lost seven times when leading in the second half. And of the eight times they've had the ball with four minutes or less with a chance to tie or win the game, they've succeeded only once (Pittsburgh).

"That's how 2-10 football teams play. They find a way to lose it at the end," Smith said after his team's latest attempt to rally fell short. "When you make dumb, stupid penalties like that throughout the game it ends up biting you at the end, which it did."

Coming Thursday on tampabay.com: Detroit Lions scouting report

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tbassfootball.

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