TAMPA -- Raheem Morris, the defensive coordinator, felt confident the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could protect a three-point lead with 1:39 remaining in the game and no timeouts left for the Detroit Lions.
But Raheem Morris, the head coach, said he should have overruled himself.
Monday, a day after the 23-20 overtime loss to the Lions, Morris second-guessed several of the decisions he made.
The biggest regret? Not letting quarterback Josh Freeman attempt to put the game away with a touchdown pass.
“That’s the time you’ve got to fall back and go with your head coach mentality and say, ‘I’ll win this thing with (No.) 5 (Freeman),’” Morris said Monday.
“The Monday morning quarterback has a perfect passer rating, so that’s what I was for myself this morning, second-guessing some of the decisions I made, second-guessing some of the decisions we made as a whole.”
The Bucs had a first down at the Detroit 15-yard line at the two-minute warning with the score 17-17. Freeman, who has thrown one interception in his past 142 attempts, went 21-of-32 for 251 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. But two running plays by Cadillac Williams gained 3 yards, and Freeman was stopped on a quarterback counter on third down at the Detroit 8, 3 yards shy of a first down. The Bucs settled for a field goal.
With no timeouts and 1:39 left, the Lions drove 58 yards for a tying field goal by Dave Rayner on the final play of regulation. Rayner’s third field goal, a 34-yarder 5:09 into overtime, snapped an NFL record 26-game road losing streak for the Lions.
“But looking back at it, having (No.) 5, having him being the premier guy in my program, in our program and who he is, you’d like to give him a chance to go win the game,” Morris said. “We did, so to speak, because we put the ball in his hands on the counter look. But just the normal second-guessing things.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said the team went with Williams in that situation instead of LeGarrette Blount, who had 110 yards on 15 carries, because of “ball security issues.” Blount has two fumbles in 164 rushes this season.
Despite three consecutive runs from the 15-yard line that forced the Lions to burn all of their timeouts, Olson said the Bucs were not content with a field goal.
“The bottom line is we were not playing the game down the stretch there to kick a field goal,” Olson said. “That was not our goal. … Those players were not out there thinking we’re just going to bang the ball up in there and kick three here. We’re trying to score a touchdown. That was stressed in those timeout situations.
“So there was no thought whatsoever that, ‘Hey, we’re just trying to burn the clock here so we can kick three.’ We were trying to score a touchdown there.”
Olson said the Bucs practiced a play all week for that situation in which Freeman follows fullback Earnest Graham through the hole on a counter play.
“We felt on the third-down play with Josh Freeman that there was excitement on the sidelines to see the play,” Olson said. “We practiced it. No one had seen it. We haven’t showed it all season, and when they lined up in the defense that they were in, we said, ‘We are going to score a touchdown here.’ We put the ball in his hands and played smart football that Raheem always talks about, but we just didn’t execute. I felt like on the second- and third-down plays that we could have executed better.”
Instead, the Bucs settled for the field goal and left it up to the defense, which was missing five starters due to injury.
Before the collapse, Freeman was working on his sixth fourth-quarter comeback of the season, and Morris has demonstrated he has a lot of confidence in his second-year quarterback, who ranks second in the NFL with six interceptions.
“Normally that is my mentality anyway, but (Sunday) I was thinking that the offense did a great job getting us down here and setting us up in this position, so let’s kill this clock,” Morris said. “It’s been a situation that we have practiced before. Let’s go to two-minute (defense) and win this thing with our two-minute. But it didn’t work out … and those are the things that you talk about, and those are things that you second-guess.”