Alan Dell

Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers inched out of victory over New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees


Football is a game of inches, but when they pile up, it becomes a long mile.

So the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could look at how they lost 35-28 to the Saints on Sunday and claim they just fell short.

They can argue the referees didn't see that Mike Williams was pushed out of bounds on the game's last play, nullifying an apparent touchdown pass he caught in the back of the end zone.

If they do that, they won't see the mile that separates them from Superman, aka Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

And they will not see that the victory over the Kansas City Chiefs a week ago was more fool's gold than a stout defense.

This isn't to say they Bucs are not improved. They just haven't walked that mile yet.

Brees carved up the Bucs, but to their credit they had the resolve to make themselves whole again and almost got the

biggest win in the short reign of head coach Greg Schiano.

But the only thing that counts in the NFL is your won-loss record, and the Bucs are 2-4.

To win close games, you have to win the close battles, and the Bucs didn't do that enough.

Trailing 28-21 midway through the third quarter, the Bucs had a first and goal at the Saints' one and failed to score.

They got the ball to the one on a 95-yard pass to Vincent Jackson, who was ahead of everyone, but it was caught by Malcolm Jenkins.

"As I got down field, I saw him start to slow down a bit and saw that I was able to catch him," Jenkins said. "It was a huge break for us to get them down inside the five and just give our team a chance."

In his defense, Jackson has been battling a calf injury and was not 100 percent. But there is no excuse for the Bucs failing to score with four attempts from the one.

Schiano ran LeGarrette Blount three times and then quarterback Josh Freeman tried a bootleg and was tackled for a loss.

"We knew what play it was going to be. We told them 'Watch the quarterback, watch the quarterback,' and Cameron (Jordan) did an awesome job, kept him in the pocket and actually stripped him," Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said.

You can't complain about inches when you fail to get the ball into the end zone from that close against a team that ranks last in the NFL in total defense and next to last in run defense.

Give Freeman kudos. He didn't.

"It was a bootleg. You are hoping you can get good luck and you have to tip your hat to the Saints. They caught it. They didn't crash down hard," Freeman said. "I like to think I was fast enough to get outside of them, but apparently I was not. I know they did something different with their front. This is a league that comes down to execution. You can have the best scheme in the world, but if you don't execute then it's all for naught. Down there we just didn't get it done."

Those four plays take away from the joy Freeman could've felt for setting a personal single-game high 420 yards passing, the third highest in Bucs history. His 95-yard pass to Vincent Jackson was the longest in club history.

"All for naught," are the words Freeman used in a painfully accurate assessment of his day's work.

Nothing seemed more for naught than the game-ending catch by Williams and the one before that when the back of Jackson's heel just touched outside the back of the end zone, nullifying an apparent touchdown.

Williams claimed he was pushed out of bounds, but the chance of officials throwing a flag on that play are about the same as NBA refs calling a foul on the last shot of an NBA game, which is nil.

"I stepped out of bounds. He hit me, but I've got to be strong enough to stay in," Williams said. "When I caught the ball, I thought it was a game-tying touchdown. I saw the flag, and I thought it was going to be pass interference. I didn't talk to the official because once they say the game is over, it's over.

"Josh (that was a great man). Like I tell people, he is the truth. He came back and showed that he is the truth. If I don't step out of bounds, we go into overtime."

The Bucs don't have much time to feel sorry for themselves with Minnesota coming up Thursday.

How they react to this loss will go a long way in determining how the rest of the season goes.

They are not there yet, but they are getting close.

And that's the truth.

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