GLENDALE, Ariz. —- If you want, you could do a lot of second-guessing about how the Bucs handled the score in their 38-33 loss Sunday to Arizona.
Maybe they should've kicked a field goal at the end of the first half. Maybe they should've kicked extra points instead of going for two during a furious second-half comeback. Maybe if they had done all those things, they could've completed what would have been the most miraculous victory in franchise history.
Or, here's a thought: Maybe you don't fall behind 31-zip to a team that isn't even that good.
Don't get caught up picking nits about field goals and extra points. Don't let the Bucs off the hook that easily. Don't talk about guts and never-quit and near-comebacks and all that junk.
The Bucs don't deserve the benefit of the doubt.
This was about being underprepared and overrated. This was about being outclassed and outcoached. This was about getting their rear ends kicked up and down the field, regardless of the deceptive final score.
"We just came out a little flat," cornerback Brent Grimes said.
Ya think? The Bucs were so flat that someone should've poured maple syrup on them.
Carson Palmer, the 87-year-old quarterback of the Cards, and Adrian Peterson, the 67-year-old running back who just showed up in Arizona a minute ago, shredded a Bucs defense that had previously looked pretty good but suddenly forgot how to tackle. Meantime, the Bucs offense looked like it does far too often: Inept, ineffective, incompetent.
What an embarrassment. What a disappointment. That's not me saying that. That's what the head coach said. Anyone disagree?
There are 11 games to go, but it felt like the season started circling the drain about one quarter into Sunday's debacle. By that point, the Cardinals were adding injury to insult by knocking Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston out of the game. And anything that happened after it was 31-0 didn't matter and don't act like it did.
"You can't spot an NFL team 31 points and think you're going to come back," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "You can't spot an NFL team any points."
But here's the part that really hurts if you're Koetter and the Bucs. This was a game you circle as "must win" if you're serious about the postseason.
Start doing the math. They already have three losses. Let's say they split the six games in what has become a very tough NFC South. That's six losses. That leaves games at Buffalo, at Miami, at Green Bay and home against the Lions. You have to win three of those just to go 9-7, which wasn't good enough to get you into the playoffs last season.
And after Sunday, what makes anyone think this team has nine wins in them?
"Not good enough," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said in an eerily quiet locker room. "We're 2-3? We easily could be 5-0."
Not sure he's right about that. But he is right about what he said next.
"We beat ourselves way too much, way too much," McCoy said. "And the teams that we've lost to, they have done what they're supposed to do when they need to do it. But we've hurt ourselves way too much. We dug a 31-point hole."
After that, Tampa Bay outscored Arizona, 33-7.
"No moral victories in this league," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after replacing Winston.
Oh, and while you're at it, don't even think about using Winston's injury as an excuse because he hasn't played well enough for Tampa Bay to be any better than 2-3.
So if you're still doing the autopsy on the Sunday's loss, forget the stuff about field goals and extra points.
But if you want to criticize the Bucs for being a lousy football team at the moment, feel free.
Contact Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tomwjones