Commentary | Bucs playoff hopes dealt a severe blow in loss to Eagles

December 10, 2012 

TAMPA

Greg Schiano says he never talks about the playoffs.

It's a good thing because the Tampa Bay Buccaneerss didn't have much to discuss on that subject after their 23-21 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.

A better topic for the Bucs head coach would to be explain how his team collapsed in the final seven minutes of the game against a Philadelphia team that had become a tragic soap opera.

This was the supposed to be the easiest of the final four games on Schiano's schedule.

The lowly Eagles had lost eight straight, and rookie quarterback Nick Foles had never won an NFL game.

Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid is said to be on his way out, and the only thing Philadelphia had to play for was pride.

The Bucs say they have a rejuvenated Josh Freeman at quarterback and needed a win to stay alive in the crowded hunt for the final playoff spot in the NFC.

To spike the adrenalin, the 2002 Super Bowl Champion Bucs and coach Jon Gruden were being honored, and Raymond James Stadium was in a raucous uproar.

The unfortunate reality is that the Bucs are now mired in a three-game losing streak and at 6-7 would have to win out and hope for a Christmas tree of miracles to make the postseason.

We saw the best of plans can often go awry, especially when a quarterback gets lost, and Freeman looked bewildered for a good part of the

game.

When the final numbers were tallied, Foles fought off six sacks to throw for a career-high 381 yards and two touchdowns with both coming on the Eagles' last two possessions.

He looked like anything but a rookie on his game-winning, one-yard TD toss as the clock expired, hitting Jeremy Maclin, who had broken free from Leonard Johnson and was falling to the ground in the corner of the end zone.

Foles pleaded with Reid to let him run that game-winning play.

"I just like a movement play in that situation because it changes throwing lanes," Foles said. "If you're in the pocket a guy can undercut it, whereas if you're on the run, there's no undercut. It felt good. It was the first play that came to my head."

A lot of people might point fingers at Johnson, the undrafted rookie, but the Bucs had two chances to end the game in the final 16 seconds. On a fourth and five from the Tampa 23, safety Mark Barron couldn't cover Jason Avant, who caught a 22-yard pass to set the Eagles up at the one before the final play.

"On the last play, I was manned up on my guy and had leverage. He ran away from the leverage to the flat," Johnson said. "I wasn't guessing at all. I was playing my technique, and they just made a good play. I did my job along with the other guys in the secondary. We did a good job of eliminating the big plays."

When the Eagles broke their huddle and Maclin saw the Bucs' defense, he felt the ball was going to come his way.

"Nick put the ball down and away like he was supposed to, I went down and got the ball, made sure I was in bounds, and the rest is history. Not winning in two months, that's crazy, but this one feels good," Maclin said.

Foles played like a veteran on the Eagles' last two drives. Trailing 21-10 with 7:15 left, he completed five of six passes in taking them 72 yards. On the game-winning drive, he took the Eagles 64 yards, hitting five of 10 passes, including his last two.

Bucs defensive tackle Michael Bennett put a lot of pressure on Foles, recording two sacks, four quarterback hurries and four tackles for losses. But put the blame on the entire defense for the final play.

"It was a sprint-out pass, and you know that that was their play. That's most teams play in the NFL," Bennett said. "In order to get one guy open, they have him running and everyone else is just blocking. For a defensive line, everything is rushing one way, and you think it is a rush play. It's one of those things, they called that play, we knew that play, and as veterans on this team we should have stood up and made those plays."

While Foles had his best game, Freeman had one of his poorer outings connecting on 14 of 34 passes for 189 yards. He had two touchdown passes, but missed a lot of open receivers and was bailed out by Vincent Jackson.

Jackson, who refused to talk to reporters after the game and stormed out of the Bucs' locker-room, caught six passes for 131 yards including a 13-yard TD pass.

"I'll have to watch the tape and see exactly what the problems were (with Freeman). It just seemed like he wasn't himself, wasn't in sync," Schiano said. "At the end of the day, we just made too many mistakes to win an NFL football game. It's what it boils down to. We didn't play well enough and didn't coach well enough to win, and the responsibility falls on me."

This game again showed how meaningless stats can be. The Bucs allowed 29 yards rushing to continue to lead the NFL in run defense. But they gave up 381 yards in the air and continue to rank last in pass defense with teams often ignoring the run because it's so easy to throw against Tampa Bay.

"We knew we were going to have to throw the football a little bit, hoping we could balance it off, but they shut down the run game pretty good," Reid said. "It gave us an opportunity to throw the ball a little bit and picked it up toward the end there."

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

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