1. Bucs

Bucs giving their all, though losses more beneficial

Keith Tandy reacts after dropping a potential interception. [Getty Images]
Keith Tandy reacts after dropping a potential interception. [Getty Images]
Published Dec. 15, 2014

Whew. That was a little too close. But the Bucs woke up in time to go back to sleep.

The dream of a No. 1 pick is still alive thanks to a much-closer-than-it-really-was 19-17 loss at Carolina on Sunday. With that, the Bucs are all set to limp to a finish with a 2-14 record and end up with a great pick in the 2015 NFL draft, maybe even the first pick overall.

The Bucs tried to win Sunday. Really, they did. Who could blame them? They're professionals. Some are fighting for jobs. Most, if not all, have pride. You can't blame them for trying, but really, the organization is better off with a loss.

What's the difference between 2-14 or 3-13 or 4-12? All of those records stink. A win now is meaningless. Let's not talk about building momentum for next season. No one can sell me that a win or two now is going to help come next September, especially when half the players aren't going to be back anyway.

Wouldn't you rather have the No. 1 pick in the draft?

What's nonsense, however, is any suggestion that the Bucs are tanking to get the No. 1 pick. This team doesn't have to try to lose. It's doing just fine even with 100 percent effort. Sunday's game was close, but let's not get too riled up. This was against a Carolina team that has a 3-8-1 record against all teams not nicknamed "Bucs.'' And they were playing their backup quarterback, Derek Anderson, for the second time against the Bucs.

So while we can criticize Tampa Bay now for another loss, we actually should be applauding an effort that was not good enough.

Way to go, boys. Let's do some mock drafts.

Turnover machine

The big selling point for the Bucs bringing in Josh McCown was that he wouldn't lose games. He wasn't expected to go out and throw for 350 yards every week and flat-out win games by himself like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but he wasn't going to turn the ball over and cost the Bucs victories.

But McCown has been something of a turnover machine. It's not all his fault. The offensive line has been awful and the play-calling has been shaky. He threw an interception Sunday, although it came on a desperation throw on the final play of the game. The backbreaker was McCown's costly fumble — one of two on the day — setting up Carolina on the Bucs 4-yard line and leading to the go-ahead touchdown.

McCown now has thrown 11 interceptions this season and has lost four fumbles. That's 15 turnovers in nine starts.

Now here's a little sugar to go with the salt. McCown has guts, I'll give him that. His 16-yard touchdown run, bouncing off tacklers and diving head-first into the end zone when he knew he was going to take a hit, proves he does care, no matter where the Bucs are in the standings.

"You can't say enough about how tough he has played all year long,'' Fox analyst Brady Quinn said.

Worst non-turnover

Know what's almost as bad as a turnover? Not getting a turnover when you should get one. That's what happened when Bucs CB Alterraun Verner dropped what seemed to be a sure interception with just less than nine minutes left in the game. The Panthers kicked a field goal on the next play to make it 19-10, and that field goal turned out to be the difference.

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Three things that popped into my head

1. Do the Bucs have some sort of rule that they have to start the second half with a penalty on their first offensive play before the ball is even snapped? Last week, they had to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game. On Sunday, it was illegal procedure.

2. The Bucs have turned the ball over in 19 consecutive games. That's the second-longest streak in the league, and it's no surprise that their record over that stretch is 3-16.

3. Don't be fooled by the Bucs' 151 yards of rushing. Of that, 63 came on one Doug Martin run. Throw out that run, and the Bucs rushed for 88 yards on 22 carries. That actually doesn't look bad compared to recent rushing games: 26, 75, 66 and 48 yards in the previous four.

Worst call

I was all prepared to rip into Bucs defensive lineman Larry English for a roughing-the-passer penalty that wiped out a Bucs interception early in the fourth quarter. Then I saw the replay. Did English's hand brush up against Anderson's head? Yes. Is that roughing-the-passer? Not even close. That call was awful. I've seen kittens rub their heads with their own paws harder than English nudged up against Anderson. Perfect example of an official putting himself above the game.

Final thought

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is coming off one of the worst games of his career. Raymond James Stadium is going to look and sound like Lambeau Field. And the Bucs are more and more beat up. Next Sunday's game between the Bucs and Packers could be scary ugly.


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