Three weeks. Three blown fourth-quarter leads.
It was enough to bring Josh McCown to tears.
"One and eight, one and eight and one and eight," the emotional quarterback said after the Buccaneers' 24-17 loss to the Falcons on Sunday.
While McCown insisted he had to play better, he is not to blame for the team's fifth straight defeat. He put them, despite all of their mistakes, in position to win with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins early in the fourth quarter.
It was yet another self-inflicted wound immediately after that pass, however, that set in motion a disheartening chain of events.
Before the Buccaneers could kick the extra point to make it 17-16, officials flagged Seferian-Jenkins for standing on the ball and striking a Captain Morgan pose. Two things everyone knows: 1) That pose is funnier and more challenging when you've been, you know, drinking, and 2) using the ball as a prop costs a team 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.
Is an endorsement deal on the horizon? Seferian-Jenkins apparently is already laying the groundwork:
(Update: Seferian-Jenkins later deleted his Instagram post.)
Head coach Lovie Smith wasn't as fond of the pose. He said the team has gone over the NFL's rules on touchdown celebrations and called Seferian-Jenkins' display "a rookie mistake we can't have."
Indeed, the Buccaneers are a one-win team that knows all too well that no lead is safe and that they must do everything they can to protect the occasional one that they do get. After all, they couldn't hold a single-point lead against the Cleveland Browns last week, and the Minnesota Vikings kicked a late field goal the week before to send the game into overtime. (Overtime ended, by the way, when Seferian-Jenkins fumbled.) So, if you're going to pose, please pose responsibly.
A couple of celebration alternatives to consider:
The touchdown increased the Buccaneers' win probability to 51 percent, the best since late in the first quarter when they led 3-0. But that's as good as it would get because on the next drive Matt Ryan and the Falcons went 65 yards on 10 plays to take a 24-17 lead.
As it has struggled to do so many times this season, the Buccaneers defense could not get off the field and allowed the Falcons to convert two third downs during the drive. One conversion came on a 3rd-and-10 in which Matt Ryan beat a six-man blitz by quickly hitting Julio Jones on a slant in front of cornerback Johnthan Banks. The other came on a 3rd-and-6 in which Banks, on the opposite side of the field from Ryan's intended pass, was flagged for illegal contact — a ticky-tacky call at best:
In all, the Buccaneers were penalized 10 times for 79 yards.
They responded by going three-and-out on their next possession, kicking a short punt and allowing a 27-yard run — a sequence that essentially sealed the game for the Falcons as it put them in field-goal range and improved their win probability to 95 percent.
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The Falcons also answered the Buccaneers' other touchdown, a second-quarter 22-yard pass to Mike Evans (his fifth score in five games). And like the game-winning drive, Jones beat the Buccaneers defense on a crucial third down. His 22-yard catch against soft zone coverage helped set up a field goal as time expired at the end of the first half:
It was the fifth time the Bucs have allowed a team (Carolina, St. Louis, Minnesota and Cleveland are the others) to kick a field goal inside the final minute of the first half.
The good news is they won't have to face Jones again this season (17 catches, 280 yards, two touchdowns). The bad news is they've now lost 11 of their past 12 games and six in a row at home. Their next opportunity to win in Tampa won't come until Nov. 30 when they play the Cincinnati Bengals. If the Bucs lose then, they will go more than a full calendar year without a win at home.
Coming Thursday on tampabay.com: Washington scouting report
Thomas Bassinger can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @tbassfootball.