Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers let one slip away in loss to Super Bowl champion Giants

adell@bradenton.comSeptember 17, 2012 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Now we know why Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano has been so tough on his guys since taking over the team last winter.

If he is continuously going to put them on an island covering some of the NFL's best receivers, they better have the stomach for it. And if the guys up front are going to help, they need to have the discipline and will to make it happen.

The Bucs could not sustain that kind of energy Sunday in their 41-34 loss to the Giants.

They failed to finish by allowing the defending Super Bowl champs 25 fourth-quarter points. The defensive meltdown was painfully reminiscent of 2011, a season everyone is trying to put in the rearview mirror.

But there is a difference. For three quarters, the Bucs were in a position to get the win, leading 27-13 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. The "Schiano Way" had something to do with that.

But his live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword philosophy can bring you many deaths in the NFL as well as make a team short on talent win more games than it should.

The question is whether Schiano's defensive style is right for this team.

Schiano likes to attack with blitzes, which often puts his cornerbacks and others in situations with receivers that can wind up painfully embarrassing.

You could argue Sun

day it led to quarterback Eli Manning and receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks all having career games. Manning threw for 510 yards, Cruz had 179 receiving yards and Nicks 199.

It can also make you a hero as it did cornerback Eric Wright. He returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown, but he also got burned more than a few times in pass coverage and outfoxed by Manning.

"We have total confidence in our ability, and the coaches have confidence in the players that whatever they call we can execute, so that type of stuff really doesn't matter at the end of the day," Wright said.

"Obviously, we want to put ourselves in the best position to be successful as far as play calling is concerned. But that is not something as players we worry about. We worry about executing whatever is called."

Schiano made no excuses even at the end of the game when he was chastised by Giants head coach Tom Coughlin for the Bucs trying to steal the ball on a kneel down by the Giants with five seconds left. Manning was more direct.

"I think it's a little bit of a cheap shot. We're taking a knee, we're in a friendly way and they're firing off -- and that's a way to get someone hurt," the quarterback said.

Maybe it's another adjustment Schiano has to make as he transcends from college coach to NFL head coach. This isn't Rutgers and the Big East.

The Bucs had an 8-point fourth quarter lead when Schiano put his team into a heavy blitz mode leaving the Giants receivers in a lot of man to man coverage they exploited.

"I don't second guess. When you make a call based on information you had ahead of time, you make it," Schiano said. "When it doesn't work, you sit there and you wish you'd done something differently. It (the pressure) was no different than we'd done all game. When you look at the distribution of pressures, it was the same. Eli did a good job all day of identifying. Overall, it was a cat-and-mouse game, and they won it."

After getting picked off three times in the first half that led to 21 Tampa Bay points and a 24-13 halftime lead, Manning credited his second-half surge to changes his offense made.

"They had some good things in the first half, and then we made some adjustments and started to see what they were doing, started making better decisions and throwing the ball more accurately," Manning said.

The Bucs wasted a good performance by quarterback Josh Freeman, who connected 15 of 26 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, one on the Bucs' final play of the game. If you had to put this loss on somebody, it would be the defense -- and you could single out the secondary.

"Numbers don't lie," said 16-year veteran Ronde Barber, who made his first NFL start at safety. "It's not just on the secondary; it's one the whole defense. We played them how we wanted in the first half. We knew we could rattle them a little bit, and they gave us the ball three times. If you would've asked if we could pick them off three times in the first half, we would've felt real good about ourselves. We have to be able to finish."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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