Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers fail to capitalize on opportunities in loss to Atlanta Falcons

November 26, 2012 

TAMPA -- Opportunities are like money in the bank.

You only get so many in an NFL season, and you better use them wisely.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been on a spending spree during their last six games, which was a big reason they won four straight and five out of six.

They made their share of costly mistakes, but thanks to 22 takeaways, their flaws were hidden.

Unfortunately, these things eventually even out.

Last week, they were a minus-two in turnover margin and won. On Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, they were a plus-two and lost a 24-23 heartbreaker at home to end their winning streak.

The good fortune couldn't last forever, and now it's time for Tampa Bay to show some ma

turity and cut down on those expensive mistakes.

The Bucs had been among the best in converting turnovers into touchdowns and were third in the league, scoring 83 points off turnovers.

But they are last in pass defense, and that can be costly.

They looked bankrupt against the Falcons.

There were big turnovers; an interception by Ronde Barber and a forced fumble by E.J. Biggers. Both gave the Bucs a first down inside Atlanta's 40, but they could only get two field goals.

"That falls into missed opportunities," Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said. "We have been very good scoring touchdowns off take-aways. It's hard to win games by threes; sevens add up considerably quicker."

There were missed opportunities and just plain misses -- none bigger than the 80-yard TD Julio Jones caught off rookie cornerback Leonard Johnson in the third quarter to give the Falcons a 17-13 lead.

For an undrafted free agent, Johnson has exceeded expectations. He made amends for another 80-yard TD he gave up against San Diego when he intercepted a pass that Phillip Rivers threw right into his hands.

But there was nothing left in his bank account.

Heralded Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan came into the game ready to target Johnson and the Bucs' other cornerback, E.J. Biggers, and showed why the Falcons are leading the NFC South.

"It came through my headset, he said, 'Go get this.' He just put it up there and gave me an opportunity," Jones said. "He said, 'You have man-on-man on this play, I'm coming to you, just go get it.' He put the ball up there, and I made a great play on it."

You have question why Schiano puts his inexperienced, less-than-stellar cornerback in such precarious situations with so much blitzing.

The rookie coach believes it creates opportunities, but Atlanta proved those opportunities are two-sided.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith took Schiano to school in the first half when he unexpectedly ran the ball 15 times and dominated time of possession by almost six minutes with the Falcons running 34 plays to only 17 for Tampa Bay.

The Bucs came into the game ranked first in run defense, and it figured the pass-happy Falcons would take to the airwaves.

"We felt like we needed to try it (run the ball). We felt like we could do it, too," Smith said. "This was the No. 1 team against the run in all of the NFL. We got the looks that we liked and were efficient doing it. And I thought we did a nice job with our run defense and controlled the line of scrimmage."

The Bucs can talk all day about how they are the better team and the Falcons made one or two plays more, but that was not the case. When three of your four leading tacklers are defensive backs -- as it was for Tampa Bay on this day -- that's a problem.

The Bucs front four did a disappearing act. Gerald McCoy didn't have a tackle, and Michael Bennett, who has been their best in the trenches this year, had one.

But no one will take this harder than Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who did not throw at TD pass for the first time this season. He couldn't do anything to get some space for 1,000-yard rusher Doug Martin, who finished with 50 yards on 21 carries.

"They loaded the box and did a lot outside of their tendencies. When you contain a guy like Doug, that's saying a lot," Freeman said. "At the same time, the main issue is just not scoring enough and failing to capitalize on turnovers. They gave us two turnovers and set us up in a prime position, and we just couldn't score a touchdown -- kicked way too many field goals."

The Bucs did get some good fortune Sunday with losses by Seattle and Minnesota, which keeps Tampa Bay tied with them at 6-5 for the last playoff spot and ahead of New Orleans (5-6), which also lost.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 1221. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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