Commentary | Amid the turmoil, another disappointing defeat for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

September 16, 2013 

TAMPA

So close, but yet so far.

It could be the theme song of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers soap opera that was generating so much conversation before Sunday's game against New Orleans. It was as if Opray Winfrey were doing play by play.

Before the game, reports that Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman was going to seek a trade because he didn't get along with head coach Greg Schiano went viral.

When the day ended, the Bucs lost on the last play of the game 16-14.

A week ago, it was on the next to last play against the Jets.

Closes losses, especially in the NFL where you only play 16 games, are excruciating.

They generate mistrust and raise questions about coaching and dedication.

Schiano admitted the last two weeks were like getting hit with several body blows.

It was particularly painful because his defense, with the exception of a breakdown on the Saints' last drive, played solid and made up for a listless offense.

At least on the outside, Schiano acted as if the

pressure was not a concern. He said he didn't know anything about a trade request by Freeman.

"This team is resilient, and their coach is a resilient guy," Schiano said. "We are going to fight our way right out of it. I understand there will be a huge contingent that will try to make it difficult for us to do that. But it doesn't matter. These guys are tough and will stick together."

It's unclear who Schiano was referencing when he talked about that contingent. The thing that has left the Bucs at 0-2 is his offense.

Freeman has connected on less than 50 percent of his passes in the two games. Against the Saints, he was 9 for 22 for 125 yards, was sacked, threw an interception and fumbled. He threw a touchdown pass after an interception, which gave the Bucs the ball on the Saints' 35.

"It isn't just the quarterback. It squarely is on me. I'm head football coach," Schiano said. "When we are not doing things offensively that we're capable of doing -- mostly in the pass game -- it's on me. I thought we ran the ball well. It's my job to make sure that we get prepared and execute on, game day, and certainly we didn't do that today."

The offense has not had a touchdown drive that started beyond mid field this season. If he had played a mediocre game in either of these two weeks, the Bucs could be 2-0.

"As an offense you want to score points. That is our job, and unfortunately we haven't been able to do that," Freeman said. "We haven't been able to sustain any drives. Our defense was outstanding. My level of production has to improve. I never heard the reports of me seeking a trade. On game days, I shut my phone off, and it's not my job to write or critique writing."

Going against one of the NFL's all-time quarterback greats in Drew Brees, the Bucs figured they had to score a lot of points. But the defense kept him in check, picking off two passes, including the one that linebacker Mason Foster returned 85 yards for a touchdown to give Tampa Bay 14-13 lead with 12:40 left in the game.

The Bucs had a chance to put the game away on a third down play at the Saints 32 with 1:56 remaining. They needed six yards and got only two on a Doug Martin run, and then Rian Lindell missed a 47-yard field goal.

With no time outs at his own 37, Brees hit three straight passes that brought the ball to the Tampa Bay nine, and Garrett Hartley nailed a 27-yard field goal as the clock ran out.

"I just didn't hit a good ball. I started way too far left," Lindell said as he sat alone in the Bucs locker room. "I felt fine. I felt good. To me they are all big kicks so it's the same feeling to me whether it's the second quarter or the first."

There will be the question of whether Schiano tried not to lose instead of trying to win.

He said he never gave thought to trying a pass that would've iced the game because the Saints were out of time outs, and the Bucs were too close to punt with the ball at the Saints' 29.

"That's (the call he made) what we thought was the best way to get a first down and keep the clock moving," Schiano said. "We felt good about the play, the way they were closing in on the run. It was a little bit of a specialty play."

For a man who preaches discipline, it was disconcerting that for the second straight week the Bucs committed too many penalties, getting flagged 10 times for 118 yards, including three unnecessary roughness calls. They also had an apparent 73-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson called back because of an illegal formation.

"We just need to keep working on the strike zone, make sure we're hitting where it's legal," Schiano said. "But our guys are playing very hard. We've been through stretches like this, and then it kind of balances out. It's my job to make sure that our staff and our players understand those procedural things. We'll get it fixed. This is a good football team. We'll be back."

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

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